Monday, December 30, 2013

Writing Feats of 2013

It's the eve of 2013, and I'm one of the those people who loves to reflect on a year gone by. Fellow Revision Warrior Rina had a fab post last week about writerly resolutions, and today I want to talk about the amazing writing-related feats we've accomplished in the last twelve months.

When I think back on this year, there are a couple milestones that stand out. I signed with my agent, the wonderful Molly Jaffa, in June, and just last month, I finished the first draft of my fourth manuscript.

But your great success doesn't have to be an agent or a book deal. Maybe you typed THE END on your first manuscript. Maybe you got ace feedback from a beta reader. Maybe you tortured your characters so much you wondered how they'd ever recover. (Okay, I'm guilty of this last one.)

As writers, we spend so much time stressing out, second-guessing, and putting our work down. I've sent emails to (and received emails from) critique partners with subject lines like "scene of DOOM plz help" and "I hate this chapter." I don't know why I'm so hesitant to accept that I've produced work I love, that I'm deeply proud of, that I can't wait to share with the world.

Just take it from this kid:

Think back on the past year. You have undoubtedly created something awesome. So, tell me: what writing-related accomplishment are you proud of in 2013?

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Writerly Lifestyle: Reflections and Resolutions

‘Tis the season! From now untill the New Year, a cyber-slew of resolution posts will hit the web. So, first off, let me offer why my perspective is a bit unique: for me, 2013 was The Year of All the Things.  
First: Enter Izzysaurus. (my newest daughter – nicknamed for her cute-ish sounding roars)

Izzysaurus: The roaring baby.
Two weeks after Izzysaurus entered our lives, I got THE CALL. While stumbling through what I call “newborn haze” I took the most important call of my writing career. 

But a quick step back: In the months just before the Izzysaurus came along, I was polishing up my middle grade manuscript. I’d gotten feedback from beta readers and I entered a few query/first chapter online contests. I was prepping for a big dive into the query-letter waters. Then something great happened. My pages did well enough in Cupid’s Literary Connection contest that I got a full request, which led to a phone call with (cue drum roll) my incredible agent, Danielle Smith from Foreword Literary

Agent Danielle Smith of Foreword Literary.

In the fog of newborn haze, I pulled it together for this one phone call. It took about 32 seconds of talking to Danielle to know I wanted this brilliant person to be my agent, advocate and advisor. When she offered representation I was honored, ecstatic, over the moon… you name it. It was THE CALL, after all.  

Soon thereafter, our first-born started kindergarten. 

Our eager beaver.

And in November, we moved into a new home. 

Casa de la Heisel

And this is why my family calls 2013 The Year of All the Things. And like a ribbon of flash powder—poof, it’s just gone. 

These kinds of years happen to everyone. But the thing is, while many of life’s pieces were falling into place, one piece suffered: my creative time. This time was gobbled up by crazy things like finding a carpet installer, pricing bathroom vanities, etc. Well, no more.

I have an AGENT.  

Which gets me to my much-needed Writerly Resolutions for 2014:

!        1)  Plan a Writing Schedule. Communicate and plan for this block of time with the family. Doesn’t this sound obvious? It probably is. But it’s a new concept to this previous freewheeler. I’ve already discovered it’s not as easy as it sounds, either. If 2013 taught me anything, it’s that Things Come Up. This leads to my next resolution…

      2)   Stick to the Writing Schedule. Again, obvious, right? And yet, and yet…   I’m not great at saying no, but I’ve gotten better. This is the year of Scheduled Writing Time, after all.

          3)  Bad Mojo is Not Allowed in Writing Dojo. When I push that button on my laptop, I need to flip a switch and focus on my WIP. I owe it to my family, my agent and myself to NOT think about the broken wash machine, finding a new cell phone plan, etc. ALL OF THAT can wait until after Scheduled Writing Time.

I’ve already worked out a plan with my family, so here’s hoping 2014 is the Year of Productivity. Feel free to hold me accountable: message me, ask on Twitter, post here. I’m hoping next year my writerly resolutions will be all craft related, and I’ll have this writerly lifestyle business down.
How about you? What are your resolutions for 2014? And, do you have any time saving tips I could use? ;-)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Querying & Dealing with Rejection

So you’ve finished your book, ran it through your critique group (or groups) edited, edited, edited, sent it to a handful of Beta Readers, edited it again and now you’re finally ready to get that book to a publisher. Time to celebrate, right?

Wait! Stop the confetti toss -- there are several more steps.  Okay, sure, take a minute to be proud of yourself. Eat a Twinkie. Play ‘Crazy Train’ on your air guitar. Sing ‘I am the Champion’ at the top of your lungs. You completed a book. WOOT! WOOT! Someone once told me that only a small percentage of persons who start a book ever finish it. I’m not sure how true that is, but it’s nice to think that I’ve accomplished something special.  A few times actually… But my other manuscripts gathering dust were great opportunities to develop my skills, right??

For any of us who’ve decided to get our books traditionally published, we know what’s next.  Oh yes.  I’m talking about catching the attention of an awesome literary agent, an amazing cheerleader-negotiator-guidance counselor-editor-marketing guru who’ll love our words as much as we do. But in order to catch the attention of an agent, we first must enter *cue evil music* the dreaded Query Zone.
 Don’t misunderstand. Literary agents aren’t evil. Actually, every agent I’ve encountered either formally (SCBWI conferences) or informally (Twitter, rejection emails/letters, blog posts) have all been polite and professional. And I’d go a step farther and say they have even been pretty dang nice! Not yet have I met one with a set of horns, spear-ended tail or split tongue.

I know, I know -- when I decided to write a book I was supposed to slap myself around for a good year or two to develop that thick skin.*picture Arnold Schwarzenegger – I eat green berets for breakfast!* Because writers trying to break into the ‘biz’ should know that rejections are just part of the cycle…

Yes, of course, rejections are part of the process. But the truth? No matter how cool I want to appear to fellow writers and family (you know what I’m talking about -- that brush off the shoulder – oh yea, I eat rejections for breakfast!). The truth is rejections hurt.  There I’ve said it – in front of everyone. They HURT dang it!!

*jumping down from soapbox* Since I’m revealing everything, let me go a step farther and admit that not only do rejections hurt, but I’ve actually developed different levels of rejectionitis.

A rejection from a query – a twinge of discomfort deep in my belly.

A rejection from a query, synopsis and sample pages - heaviness in the abdomen.

A rejection from a partial – moderate, lingering discomfort in the chest and a burning sensation on the back of my neck (I know weird, right? Last time my husband almost dialed 911)

And finally, a rejection from a full – all the above plus nauseous sometimes with or without vomiting.

Okay, so I could go on and on, but enough whining.  I've actually found ways for dealing with rejectionitis.

Clown Around: Laughter really is good for the soul and I can often find the humor in pretty much anything. In truth, though, clowns kinda freak me out.

The Rotation: Send out a new query every time a rejection comes in. I researched and found fifty agents I thought might be a good fit for my book and notated them in Query Tracker. Then I sent out ten queries. Every time a rejection comes in, I send a new query out to the next agent on my list. It feels good to know that even though an agent has passed there’s another who might feel that special connection with my story. (Did you know in Twitter and Tumblr there is a Manuscript Wish List? Check it out #MSWL)

Go West Side Story: Reach out to your posse – your fellow writers who have been there. It’s nice to remember you’re not alone. *When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way*

Get Possessed: Jump into a new story. There’s something therapeutic about making up new worlds and throwing yourself into them. Into the story that is – not the pits of hell.

Of course, when you query, it’s important to follow the rules.  Spend time researching the agents to make sure they handle what you’ve written and personalize your message to them.

So, now that you have permission to stomp your feet and scream “Why not me?” Do share. How do you handle rejections?

photo credit: CherrySoda! via photopin cc photo credit: bunchofpants via photopin cc

Monday, December 9, 2013

Be Brave and Write YOUR Story

Subjectivity. Trends. Overdone trends. Cliche. Unmarketable.

I can see you now, fellow writers--just reading those words is probably making you cringe. You may even be considering one of these numbers:

WAIT. SAVE THAT COMPUTER. Those jokers are expensive.

If you've been around the writerly world for a while, then you’ve likely heard one or more of those words. I’m not here to lie to you guys--subjectivity is very real (and sometimes very painful). If you're in the revision stage, then there's a possibility you'll be querying in the near future. When you’re querying, agents and/or publishers will likely consider the marketability of your manuscript before taking it on. This is a business, after all. For example, if you’re querying a dystopian or paranormal, you may have a tougher go at things than others.

(I swear I’m going somewhere with this. Don’t you dare trash that manuscript you just spent a year of your life tweaking and polishing. And PLEASE put down the pitchfork. Yeah, you.)

I’ve been listening to a lot of Sara Bareilles lately, and her breakout hit “Love Song” is what made me fall in love with her a few years ago. I’d originally heard a story about  the background of the song, which said that Sara wrote the lyrics in response to her label “demanding” she write a lovey-dovey romance song. I looked into that a little more.

It turns out that story isn’t entirely true. According to this interview with MTV, Sara had been struggling with songwriting for a while. She kept turning in snippets of songs, all of which got a “meh” reaction. Her confidence plummeted. She became insecure. Sound familiar? If so, raise your hand.

Then, Sara got pissed. She basically said “screw it,” and sat down to write a song for herself. “Love Song” was born, and that’s what thrust her into the spotlight.

Sure, you can write for trends. You can write what you think will get you an agent or a book deal. I’ll admit that there is something to that. It’s great to be smart and up-to-speed on what’s selling, and yes, it can even help guide you when you have a bunch of plot ideas swimming in your head. But you see, there’s something magical that happens when you write the story YOU want to write. When you write the story that spills out of you and demands to be told, a piece of your heart, a piece of YOU, is embedded in that story. And you know what?

People will notice.

I’m not guaranteeing that this will be a money-maker book. What I am saying is that you’ll be happy. You’ll love your book (except for the moments when you’ll probably hate it. It's the writer’s vicious cycle.). You’ll be passionate for this book, and you’ll be its best advocate.

There are agents/publishers out there who still love Dystopian. There are plenty who gobble up Paranormal. There is a reader out there for your book. But you have to be brave. You have to be willing to face the rejections for that chance at a “yes.” Maybe this book will end up on the bestseller list. Maybe it’ll end up in the drawer. Either way, you’ll be the proud author of a book that you love. That’s a pretty amazing feeling.

Some parting words of wisdom from Sara herself (and her song “Brave”):

“Say what you want to say and let the words fall out. Honestly, I want to see you be brave.”

What about you guys? Have you written the story of your heart?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Make Revising Less Sucky!

I cannot believe that December is already here! I’m a total Christmas junky, and December means that I can jam out to my holiday playlist whilst breaking out the decorations. Yay! It also means that NaNoWriMo is officially over. A huge congrats to everyone who joined in.

According to the NaNo website, over 300,000 writers participated this year. That is a LOT of words. And a LOT of people will be diving into revisions over the next few months, which brings me to the point of this post. I am a revision warrior after all. *winks*

During my own frustratingly endless extended visit to revision land, I’ve stumbled upon a few tricks that have helped tremendously when it comes to making sure the plot is moving forward, which tends to be a first draft nemesis for a lot of writers. Especially when we enter into “middle” territory. Or, if you’re a three act structure sort (like me) the dreaded Act II.

Note: I can’t take the credit for coming up with these tips. They’re just things I’ve come across that became part of my process. So to all of you amazing bloggers out there that share your nuggets of wisdom, keep doing it! It really does help.

So without further adieu, I give you:

(P.S. I’ve saved my favorite for last.)

1)  Goals, Motivation, and Conflict. A.K.A. GMC’s. These buggers are essential to EVERY scene.
a.       Goal: What does your main character want?
b.      Motivation: Why does he want it?
c.       Conflict: What’s standing in his way?

If you really want an in depth look at GMC’s, here a great post by Susan Dennard on Pub(lishing) Crawl 

2)  Once your GMC’s are strong, you might notice that in each scene, your MC is either running toward something or running away/reacting to something. Use this to your advantage.

And by running, I don’t mean literally. Even in a quiet scene, this can still be applied. Think about it. Your character has a goal and strong motivation for achieving it. The steps they take to reach their goal is the running toward part. BUT, someone or something is standing in their way, right? Right!

There’s bound to be fun complications that sends your MC back to the drawing board. (Or maybe running for their life. *twirls villainous moustache* That’s at least three chapters per goal right there, folks.

a)      MC realizes goal and taking steps to achieve it.
b)      MC gets close to reaching goal and deals with complications.
c)       Retreat, regroup, replan.

Even at a modest 2500 words per chapter, that’s 7500 words per goal. If you’re aiming for an 80K novel, and your middle or second act needs to take up approximately 50,000 words, you’d need about six strong goals to get you close to ramping up for the climax. This is incredibly helpful if (again, like me) you lean toward shorter first drafts. Breaking it down into manageable chunks is way less intimidating.

And Now for my favorite!

3)  Yes, but/No, and

‘Yes, but/No, and’ answers the very important question: does your MC reach their scene goal?
The answer to which should never be a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, because these answers do not move the plot forward. In sales, they’re called closed questions. They are final.

Finality in the middle of your book isn’t a good thing. That’s what endings are for.

So, does your MC reach his goal?  

Sometimes, in order to move the plot forward, your characters must achieve what they’re after—like a piece of information. In a case where the answer is, yes, the MC reaches her goal, follow it up with a but.

Ready for a terrible example?

Goal: Prince Amazeballs wants to rescue the girl he loves. Does he achieve the goal? Yes, BUT… Wait for it… She turns out to be working for evil overlord, and the whole kidnapping was a trap to lure him away from the dragon’s lair he was supposed to be protecting. BAM! A new set of problems have arisen. (I told you it was a bad example)

Okay. Next scenario.

So, does your MC reach his goal?

Much of the time, as is the way of middles, the answer is no. He may get so close that his fingers graze the prize, but alas, the big bad is there to foil his plans. That’s all good and exciting, unless it stops with at no. Something needs to come next, and preferably, it should be worse than failure.

For instance: Prince Amazeballs has amnesia and must cross the bridge of destiny to reach the forest of memories and unlock the knowledge required to save his true love. Does he achieve his goal? No. When he reaches the bridge, he discovers it has been destroyed, AND the evil overlord’s flying turtledove minions have found him. What’s an amnesiac prince to do?

Okay, so I know these examples are quite silly, but Yes, but/No and has helped my plot out of many a slump. What's your favorite tip for revising? Let us know in the comments!