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Lindsay Smith Posts

August Wrap-Up, September Goals

Well, this is going to be an August Wrap-Up/September Check-In, but I know, I know, I’ve been pretty much MIA all summer. For good reasons and dumb ones. Let’s start with the great, and talk about my favorite topic, process, along the way!

Last week I went on an amazing, restorative retreat in Canada with five other YA authors. We were all working on wildly different projects at wildly different stages of the process, and each had colossally different approaches to the work, but it was such a positive and encouraging and relaxing environment, and I feel like I learned a ton both about how I work best and how I relate to other writers (and can be a better author friend).

“You are the embodiment of work hard, play hard,” Ryan Graudin said to me, which I took as a compliment of the highest order. I arrived a few days later than the others, and E. K. Johnston joked that everyone’s productivity went up 500% when I showed up, but hey—I love what I do, and what I do is ruthlessly crack the writing whip and Slytherin it up. I instituted a new evening activity, “Drinking & Drafting,” which is as advertised: enjoying a glass of wine, beer, or entire bottles of honey whiskey and Fireball (as the case was, when there’s six of you) while doing thirty-minute writing/revising sprints. In between, we can chat and laugh at ourselves and rage at our stupid stupid words, but when the timer starts again, it’s back to work.

(Note: Twitter Drink&Draft nights might become a thing. Be forewarned.)

I learned about incorporating feedback and tweaking character motivation from Roshani Chokshi. About the usefulness of persistence and the “slow and steady” writing process from Ryan. E. K. Johnston reminded me of the joys (and terrors) of producing under pressure. Leah Bobet basically gave a master class on worldbuilding and reconceptualizing the mundane and the mythic. And Emma Higginbotham just straight up kicked word count ass.

In large part thanks to the retreat, August turned out to be my highest word-count month ever, more than any NaNo months. (It was so high, in fact, that I’m actually too embarrassed to post the monthly total because I still can’t get past the stigma that people think high word count = crap writer.) This sounds awesome, I know, but when I look back on the summer I’ve had, I’m even more pleased with it.

Truth is, this summer sucked for me on the creative frontier. In March and April, I went through a wild and wonderful drafting spree, cranking out a 90,000-word YA fantasy novel in six weeks thanks to that giddy mix of a solid outline and ambition and determination. So in May, I was coming down from that exhilarating high. I also faced some big and incredibly stressful shake-ups at work (yeah . . . the new job I took because I wanted more stability . . .) and, stupid as it sounds, was feeling pretty frustrated and conflicted about a piece of media I’d been eagerly awaiting for over two years. All this plus my usual summer depression plus a longer stretch of not being medicated when I really ought to be pretty much killed my creative drive all the way through July. I did finally drag myself to the doctor to get medicated (on a permanent basis, finally) and also—surprise!—got an ADHD diagnosis. Which, in retrospect, is just hilariously sad that it took 32 years for someone to notice, most of all me.

Writing through depression sucks. Often, there is no writing through depression. There is thinking about writing, and feeling even worse because you aren’t writing; or trying to write, and hating every last word. I spent most of those months outlining stories and getting angry the moment I actually tried to write them because everything sounded dead and dull and gray. Reading was similarly painful. Either I felt hopelessly incapable of ever making another book of my own, or found absolutely nothing of value in what I tried reading, even if it should have been hitting every single one of my happy story buttons. It just seemed like a chore.

Two things got me through the worst patch of it.

First were obligations. To Coldwitch, to The Hanging Garden, to friends. I could drag myself to a coffee shop with a friend, laptop in hand, if only so I could yell at said friend to get her writing done. Naturally I had to at least make an effort to do some of my own, even if I was days behind and felt like every scene starred two pieces of cardboard slowly getting soggy in the rain.

Second, I opened up a blank Word doc and braindumped all my frustration with said disappointing-confusing media and didn’t care how much it resembled soggy cardboard, because it was entirely for me. No publishers or readers to impress because it wasn’t for them and would never be for them. It was my catharsis alone—all 53,000 words of it—and, conveniently enough, it centered on a character systematically working through their own depression and self-doubt. Maybe it was a waste of words, maybe not, but it allowed me to keep writing through depression with zero expectations and pressure—something I hadn’t done in a very, very long time.

And despite all that: I’m going into September with a ridiculously high word count for the year to date, one that has me feeling really good about where I’m going to end the year. And here’s what I’m hoping to accomplish:


September Goals

Writing cool scary new project in new medium that I can’t talk about even though it’s going to take up all my brainpower! Good times.

Drafting big gay adult high fantasy shedding the armor of toxic masculinity novel! (currently: 14K; goal by end of month: 50K)

Promoting A Darkly Beating Heart, my angry little revenge fantasy book that defies conventional promotion tactics.


September Stretch Goals

Set up a Patreon (as Dahlia is hounding me to do, and I have lots of ideas for it! Just need the confidence and time)

Start revisions/rewrites on stray carewolves YA high fantasy novel

Outline adult high fantasy girl gang smashing colonialism novel for NaNoWriMo


At the top of my September TBR:


What are your goals for September? What’s at the top of your TBR pile?

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5 Things I Learned Writing My First Series

paperback promoThe entire Sekret series is now available in paperback! To celebrate, I’ve been posting teasers and cool new character artwork to social media, and I shared a Valentin short story with my newsletter subscribers, as well. Today I’d like to talk about my learning experience in writing my first series, and how I plan to use that experience moving forward.

1. Begin with the end in mind.

Whether you’re writing a duology or an eight-book epic saga, whether you’re a plotter or pantser, know where you’re going. The great and awful thing about story arcs is that they can subdivide, like cells. Find the arcs you need to carry you to the end, but don’t lose sight of where that endpoint is.

I had those final scenes of Skandal fixed firmly in my mind from the opening chapters of Sekret. Pretty much everything in the middle changed–hell, I’d plotted the thing as a three- or four-book series, then had to rush to tie everything up in two–but seeing that finish line on the horizon kept me moving ahead.

2. Second books are always way easier and way harder.

Oh, man, second books are so great. Your world is already established, you already know your characters and their issues, your readers are invested, and now you just get to dance around and have fun with them a second time!

OH MY GOD I HATE SECOND BOOKS SO MUCH. They have to be like the first book, but not too similar; they have to be dramatic, but in a different way; they have to up the stakes, but didn’t you spend countless rewrites on Book 1 trying to do just that??? how high can these stakes go???; and by around page 150 your beloved characters have rambled on about the SAME FREAKING ISSUES over and over that they’ve turned into worn-out Barbie dolls that you’re joylessly shuffling to and fro.

3. Authenticity isn’t enough–learn to apologize. Always aim to do better.

There’s a Romani slur in the first 100 pages of Sekret. I was trying to strike an authentic tone for someone who grew up in the era of Stalinist cleanses, but instead, I was just an asshole. I didn’t know better. Now I do. I’ve apologized for it before, but let me do so now, unequivocally: I’m deeply sorry for causing offense and perpetuating a harmful stereotype. When the rights to Sekret return to me, this will be the very first thing I remove. I will work harder and I will do better every time.

Five years ago, when I first wrote Sekret, I had all kinds of ideas about what constituted authenticity in historical fiction, and putting this book out in the world ended up tearing down every single one of those ideas. For instance: I provided a literal rather than figurative translation of a Russian insult in order to avoid dropping an F-bomb (and thereby meet my publisher’s desire to publish these books as 12-17 rather than 14+), which left some Russian readers rightly scratching their heads. I went on long diatribes about all the intricate detail of Soviet life and KGB hierarchy, and pretty much all of it got cut. You have to thread a delicate needle of good storytelling, authentic representation, but also a deep knowledge and understanding of the issues you’re addressing, whether intentionally or inadvertently, and it can be hard, but you must do it. Do the work, do the work, do the work. Writing in the Margins’ sensitivity reader database is an excellent resource, but it is NOT the first step in the process.

Also, that process? The one of gaining a deeper understanding of the world around you and being less of an asshole? It never ends. Keep working. Keep learning.

4. Series Bibles save lives.

I didn’t start a formal Series Bible document until I was halfway through drafting Skandal. I can’t imagine how much pain and torment I could have spared myself if I’d started it when I first sat down to draft Sekret. Series Bibles can contain any information you possibly might need to refer to later in your book–from character eye colors and middle names to setting details, food preferences, political views, favorite swear words, and much, much more. They’re an absolute requirement when working with a writing team, like I do with the crew from The Witch Who Came In From the Cold, but I would strongly, strongly encourage them for any project of any length. Don’t pull a Lindsay and have to reread 70 pages of your published novel (you know, the book you probably had to read 50 times from first draft to publication) just to track down someone’s dead brother’s name.

5. Farewell is not goodbye.

For a series that was supposed to be a “duology,” I’ve sure gotten a lot of mileage out my psychic Russian teens. A short story in the Fierce Reads 2015 anthology; a digital prequel novella set during WWII; a short story from Valentin’s POV. And I have so much more I want to say with them, too, even though–as I’ve stated before, and as I still believe–the arc of Yulia and Valentin is complete.

The publishing climate is always changing. Some stories end long before their time, but others get second chances, second lives. Some become shapeshifters and can transform into another medium or another experience. If you love your world, don’t be afraid to return to it from time to time. You never know what new possibilities await you around the bend.

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Weekly Recap

Another two-week recap. Someday I’ll be caught up~


New Releases This Week


This Week in Cover Reveals


And some new book deals announced that I’m ridiculously excited for:

The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke

Mirage by Somaiya Daud

The Wanderings of Dessa Rose by Lauren Spieller


This Week on the Internet

How do you take your writing to the next level? from Janice Hardy

When In Doubt, Write What You Love: Chuck Wendig on dodging burnout, or why I can have one month where I write 20K words and hate every second, or why I can (currently) hit 70K in a month and still want to do more.


This Week in Writing (aka why I’m behind on recaps again)


This Week in Reading

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Weekly Recap

Hi, friends! I’ve been radio silent for the past few weeks dealing with an avalanche of deadlines and a tyranny of promotional events (including for the stellar A Tyranny of Petticoats anthology, in which I have a story)! So this weekly recap will actually be for the past few weeks. Mea culpa.


The Past Few Weeks In New Releases


The Past Few Weeks in Cover Reveals

(I know I missed a TON, so I apologize!)


These Past Few Weeks in Internet Reading

Moneyball for Book Publishing – Reader habits data and what it could mean for how books get produced down the line.

What Authors Can and Can’t Control in Traditional Publishing

On writing a “middle-finger book” from Nova Ren Suma. I feel this deeply.

“I just don’t identify with the character” – an in-depth look at how editors and publishers perpetuate homogenous identities and experiences in children’s literature, and how they can create lasting and meaningful diversity.


These Past Few Weeks in Writing

(ie, why I’ve sucked at blogging lately)

Finished line edits on A Darkly Beating Heart! This was a mad, exhilarating sprint and I’m in such a better place now about this book.

Finished up a slew of freelance work.

Loads and loads of fun promotional events for A Tyranny of Petticoats!

Write some fun bonus material for a forthcoming promotional effort for The Witch Who Came In From the Cold. More information soon . . .

Great progress on Ghosts of Grimley, my first foray into middle grade.

I’ve finished the outline and I’m full steam ahead on my next YA project, which will also be my Camp NaNoWriMo draft for April.

…And finally, I’m writing a Valentin POV story as a gift for everyone who signs up for my newsletter on or before April 19th, to celebrate the paperback releases of Sekret and Skandal! (There’s loads of other goodies in the #SekretSkandal giveaway too, so don’t miss out!)

P.S.: If you’d like to keep up with me and all my wild writing pursuits, plus use a great project tracker for your own writing, join me on My Write Club!

The Past Few Weeks in Reading


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Sekret & Skandal Paperback Promotion

I’m so excited to announce that my first series, the SEKRET duology, is going to be out in paperback in just under a month! To celebrate, I’m going to be hosting a giveaway and releasing a bunch of cool content, including teasers, dossiers, and even–for those who sign up for my newsletter–a new short story from the POV of someone I know you all love. WINK. WINK.


To enter the INTERNATIONAL giveaway:

Tweet, Tumbl, or Instagram anything related to Sekret & Skandal–pictures of the books in the wild, fan art, your favorite quotes, and more–and use the hashtag #SekretSkandal. Brownie points if you also link to my website.

I’ll respond to your post to let you know I’ve recorded your entry for the giveaway. If you don’t hear from me within a couple of days, @ me or contact me privately to make sure I saw it.

Multiple entries from the same person will get you an additional entry but it has to be new content (no reposting).

I’ll close entries on Sunday, April 24th at 11:59pm EDT and select the winner via Randomizer shortly thereafter.

The more entries I get, the more prizes I’ll add to the pack, but it’s starting with THREE signed books (US only) or THREE hardcover books from The Book Depository (Int’l) and some printed artwork, all of which will be revealed in the weeks ahead . . .


I look forward to seeing everyone’s entries!


To buy SEKRET:

IndieboundAmazonBarnes & NobleChapters The Book DepositoryPowell’sKoboiBooks



IndieboundAmazonBarnes & NobleChaptersThe Book DepositoryPowell’sKoboiBooks


KURSED, a digital-only prequel novella:

Amazon (Kindle)Barnes & Noble (Nook)Chapters (Kobo)Kobo iBooks

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Game Theory, Plot Twists, and the Velocity of Media (Part 2)

Earlier, I talked about how game theory works, and hinted at the way writers might use it to inform how they design their plot twists. So today, let’s look a little further at how that all plays out!

Once upon a time, audiences were almost always playing the storytelling game at Level 0–which is to say, they had no idea they were participating in the game at all. They had no idea a big plot twist was coming their way. So they weren’t even knowing that they should expect any wild twist, much less ones about sleds named Rosebud or about Luke’s parentage.

But nowadays, we generally expect for something in the story to not be what it seems. We are aware that storytelling is a game, and at very least, we are all playing at Level 1. It can be as subtle as an ally actually being an adversary, or as juicy and gratifying as . . . well.

When a story presents itself straightforwardly and carries along to its natural conclusion, to modern consumers’ perceptions, it’s too flat. Too unsurprising. Most people are going to be playing at at least Level 1. That’s just the nature of media these days.

Hell, even certain twists have become so common as to be unsurprising. The farmboy was the Chosen One all along. The butler didn’t do it (except for when he actually did). The boat sinks. John dies at the end. The island was actually purgatory. (Uhhh. I think.) These are so common that they’ve become “tropes,” and once you’ve become a trope, you’re really a few dozen repetitions away from a cliche. If you want to really, truly surprise readers, you need to look for a twist or a surprise beyond the basic staples.

You need to play the storytelling game at Level 2.

Let’s say you’ve got your characters set up, and they need to pull off a heist, or some sort of mechanically complex heist-like scenario.

Level 0: They plan the heist. They execute the heist. Maybe some slight hiccups but more or less it goes as planned. Yawwwwnsville.

Level 1: They plan the heist. They execute the heist BUT all is not as it seems. The princess is in another castle! The boss’s right-hand lady was plotting to lock them in the vault! The sinister Count Moneytits is sitting in the vault, awaiting them all! &c.

Level 2: They plan the heist, at least partially off-camera from the audience. (NOTE: this is usually a big clue that things are going to work out as they planned it, I’ve noticed. If we hear the plan, that almost always means things won’t go to plan.) Suddenly, it looks like everything has gone off the rails. Oh, sweet bazooka, this looks really bad–BUT IT ACTUALLY ISN’T. IT WAS THE PLAN ALL ALONG.

Personally, I love Level 2 plot twists. They aren’t so outlandish as to be completely implausible and incomprehensible, but they also show that the creator cared enough about their audience to take the extra time and craft to come up with something really fresh. They didn’t latch onto the obvious twist, the first idea that popped into their head. They probably rejected a few potential setups (it was the sister all along, they thought he died but he actually didn’t) as too Level 1.

But you will still find critics of these twists. Frequent readers are very, very savvy, after all, and  they’ve seen so much media that even the Level 2 permutations become commonplace to them. They’re often going to be looking for a Level 2 twist.

So you might be tempted to play into their hands. To up the stakes even further and play the game at Level 3.

But that way lies nonsensicalness, poor foreshadowing, chaos, and consternation from everyone but this rarefied crowd:

It can work. It usually doesn’t.

My advice, then, is two-fold:

  1. Look for those Level 2 opportunities. Rather than reaching for the obvious twist, lay out something a little subtler and less crucial that will make readers feel rewarded whether they are surprised by the twist (didn’t see it coming) but also if they anticipate the twist (they picked up on foreshadowing and get to feel clever).
  2. Don’t make incorrect guesses about the twist the very crux of your story, unless that is really, truly what you want your book to be about. That’s okay if so! But the entire experience should be rewarding, both before the twist and after. The twist should generally, in my opinion, build toward a larger issue rather than serve as the large issue itself.

For example: In Sekret, an identity exposed gives Yulia some vital pieces of information in order to succeed in her goals. The mere fact of the exposure doesn’t solve anything or confound anything. It’s what the protagonist does with it that makes the difference. I expected a rough split between readers who anticipated it and who didn’t, because ultimately, what was important was what Yulia did with the twist that drove the plot. Hopefully whether people guessed it or not, they felt satisfied at the surprise or at the confirmation.

But I have a few more thoughts on tropes->cliches, plot twists, and straightforwardness in storytelling, particularly with what it means with regards toward understanding your audience and how they play the game–whether we’re talking about readers’ age or their relative storytelling savvy. And for that, we’ll need to discuss the velocity of media in Part 3.

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