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Archive for the tag “writing”

My Quarter-Writing-Life Crisis

When I first started writing, the blank computer screen was like a ginormous bag of dress-up clothes where I could play make-believe every day. I didn’t always write every day–I was fourteen years old and I had all the time in the world. Even when I wasn’t writing, I could daydream about characters I loved in a world I loved, and all the amazing and shocking things that would happen to them. I had my own private movie studio in my head, and the power. Was. Incredible.

Then I finished my first novel.

If you’ve never experienced this high, it’s even more awesome than the private movie studio. Suddenly, you want everyone to know what you’ve done, and you want everyone to read it, and you have mega dreams, so you have your mom read it, and your best friend read it, and your English teacher read it, and of course they are supportive and glowing and they are lying through their teeth BUT THAT’S OKAY because it’s what you need to hear at the time.

And then sooner or later you get to work on the sequel. (There’s always a sequel).

By the time I was neck-deep in my sequel, I was in college, and finding time to write proved more difficult than it was in high school. Also, I was pretty arrogant, and didn’t do much in the way of studying the actual craft of writing fiction. I’ve always had a pretty good grasp on flow and grammar, and I knew how to tell a story (out loud) really well, so I figured I pretty much knew what I was doing. This was the wrong approach.

By the time I was halfway through the sequel’s sequel (that’s the third novel, if you’re keeping track) I discovered AbsoluteWrite’s forums and my writing took an FTL jump ahead. Suddenly, I could see all the things I was doing wrong, and that there are gadzillions of resources for writers on the web. I’m also grateful that I didn’t seriously start my querying journey until I learned about Writer Beware through the AW forums. There are a LOT of predators lurking out there, seeking to scam unsuspecting writers out of their cash and dreams.

About that time, I passed my 10 year anniversary of writing, and it was like a little celebration. I felt like a grizzled veteran. I felt like I was making major progress. I started new novels in completely new worlds that I actually plotted and planned out ahead of time.

I was going somewhere.

And then I passed 12 years. And then 15 years (wow, fifteen years), and then like every other good 30 year old I know, I kind of stopped counting. “I’ve been writing for fifteen years,” I would say, very aware of the hard work it takes to get published. “Fifteen years.”

Finally, I did the math yesterday, and it hit me like a ton of soggy pancakes. I’ve been writing novels for seventeen years.

That isn’t gloating you hear in my voice. It’s panic. I don’t know if it’s the extra syllable in seventeen that makes it sound like an eternity, or the fact that I’ve been writing longer than most of my characters have been alive (ahahahahasob), but coupled with the fact that I’ve heard lots of stories recently about writers who’ve been writing two or three years getting agents and book deals, it made me feel like a failure.

And then I found this incredibly heartfelt and honest blog post about a writer experiencing those same feelings of failure–and at the time she wrote it, she had an agent and some meaty nibbles from a publishing house. Even though both of those things didn’t end up working out, she later got a new agent, and a publishing contract, and her first novel is getting published next year.

I feel better! I feel re-energized! I’m calming down now!

Anyway, I realized that maybe I’m going through a bit of a quarter-life crisis, except that it’s for my life as a writer, not my actual calendar age. I know for a fact that this is what I want, and that I am still learning and growing as a writer. Publishing doesn’t work like school, where you put in x-number of years and come out with your goal in hand. It will happen when it happens, and until then I won’t ever give up.

And if you are a beginning writer, or at a different stage of the journey, I hope this has been helpful. Don’t be like me and waste years of your writing life toiling without learning your craft. Take classes. Read widely. Follow blogs and agents and editors on Twitter. Get a writing partner or three and read the AW forums. Join a writer’s association.

As for me, while I query and pitch my novels, I’m going back to that box of dress-up clothes, where I can put on a big, floppy hat and heels four sizes too big for my feet. I have a new project to write. 🙂

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Wednesday Writing: QueryTracker

Today, I’m going to highlight one of my favorite resources for writers pursuing traditional publication: querytracker.net.

Query Tracker let’s you search an extensive database of Literary Agents and publishers, organize your findings, set up a plan of “attack” and execute it–while tracking the whole thing. 

From the website:

Literary Agents Listed: 1,266
Publishers Listed: 153
Members: 52,720
Success Stories: 785

Those might not look like great odds (785 out of 52,720) but that’s the publishing business for you. If you look at it a different way, that’s seven hundred and eighty-five brand new authors who give QueryTracker credit as a vital cog in their pathway to being agented (and ultimately, published) authors.

The free version of the site is certainly adequate, but if you’re getting serious about publishing, I highly recommends the $25 annual fee for premium membership. It gives you lots more search parameters and let’s you organize multiple projects at once. And I usually choke at the idea of spending money on “membership fees,” so that should tell you something.

Before QueryTracker, this was what the inside of my brain looked like:

Okay, going to make a list of agents to query…okay she looks right, what are her submission requirements? [search search] Okay, found the requirements, now, I need to find her pet peeves and make sure I don’t do those [search search] oh, he looks like he might be a possibility, too, let me dig further [search search] wait. What did I decide about the first agent? Where did I start? Did I actually query her? What did I SEND?

I’ll spare you the panicked thrashing. It suffices to say I had the hardest time organizing my research and tracking who I queried on what day, how long it had been, if I should wonder if I got lost in spam, etc.

After QueryTracker, my head looks like this:

First small batch sent out: check. Next batch lined up: check. Oh, did I just get a rejection? Oh well–let’s close that out…and okay, who’s up on the next batch?

You see how being organized and tracking your queries actually helps you deal with rejection? And bonus: there are lots of people posting comments on each agent listing, and that gives you a vibe for the kinds of projects an agent is accepting, the kind she/he tends to reject, and makes the entire writers-querying-agents process a lot less lonely.

Friday Frivolity: My next YA contemporary will be about band

Events are conspiring to make me miss band.

  1. My friend Karen found her cassette tape from our 1996 festival performance (my freshman year) and posted a picture of it on Facebook.
  2. I just spent my lunch hour scouring the web for an orchestral rendition of composer Basil Poledouris’s masterpiece: the score for the original Conan the Barbarian movie.
  3. The reason I did that was because I’d been listening to the music in my car and decided I had to ask my poor sister (Director of Artistic Planning for the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra) to get her symphony to play this music. At least she didn’t laugh at me.
  4. Finally, that lead to me wandering around the CSO website looking at the bios for all their musicians, wishing I was one of them.

Band was Extracurricular Activity Numero Uno for me in middle school and high school, so I spent who knows how many hours rehearsing and playing in our marching band, concert band, and jazz ensemble. I spent so much time with it that by the time I got to college, I was burnt out and ready to let my trumpet muscles go to seed.

I’ve tried to go back to the trumpet many times over the years, but the problem is I remember how I sounded at my “peak” (I had a good, mellow sound, but not a good range, and that’s a killer for trumpet players).

Now, I sound like a dying cow for the ten minutes I can manage to play before my lips cry uncle. I think I’ll just have to relive my glory days (ha! hahahaha) by writing a novel about band. Just not right now.

But I ask you…how can any former band or orchestra member watch this clip and NOT wish they were the ones forcing this groundswell of sound into existence?

Wednesday Writing: Where Do I Begin?

Knowing if you’ve started your novel in the right place has got to be one of the most difficult things to master for a writer. Fortunately, there are professionals who read books and manuscripts for a living, so they have a finely honed sense of what makes a great jumping off point.

Unfortunately–for those of use who have yet to land an agent or an editor at a publishing house–we have to muddle along with help from fellow amateurs, trusting our instincts as readers to guide us to finding that magical point where a character’s story is ready to have a reader join the journey.

My writing partner has an excellent novel she’s been polishing for awhile. It has garnered contest wins and accolades from peers, and I certainly enjoyed reading it when we first became writing partners. However, the opening pages were hard to get through, and I thought it was something to do with presentation. I worked with her for some time trying to fix a problem I couldn’t quite put my finger on–was it the main character? The setting? The mix of dialogue to prose?

She recently got feedback from an agent and another professional who told her she wasn’t starting the novel in the right place. Instead of starting the novel with a magical duel between the main character and a rival, they suggested she start with the MC limping home from a fight.

My writing partner was worried I would be disappointed that she was essentially scrapping pages of stuff we’d worked on over a period of weeks, but I was excited! That sounded like the perfect place to start the story, and I looked forward to reading the new beginning.

In writing, you can never fall in love with your pages or become so invested in a partner’s work that you’re resistant to starting fresh.

Now, if only I could tell the best place to start my novels… 🙂

Wednesday Writing: Think Before You Name

As writers, we name a whole lotta stuff. Characters. Towns. Fantasy and science fiction writers name entire worlds. But a name isn’t just an arbitrary placeholder meant to differentiate people and places in your book.

In unillustrated works, the name is the face.

Think about that. You get a character’s physical description a handful of times in a book. Maybe you get clues to his personality a handful of other times. But how many times do you see his name? In a 300 page novel, the number is probably close to a thousand times. If your name sounds weak, the character will seem weak. If your name sounds brawny, the character will sound brawny. If your name is an unpronounceable mouthful, readers will skip right over it and probably not connect with your character very well.

I really want to know what Suzanne Collins was thinking when she named Peeta in The Hunger Games.

  • Katniss–sounds feminine but fierce because of the “Kate/Kat” element. It also makes sense in District 12 because it’s the name of a wild plant. A good, solid name for her.
  • Haymitch–great name for this character. He’s crotchety, older, a real scoundrel.
  • Peeta–wha? Is it male? Is it female? Is it concerned with the ethical treatment of animals? Is it a type of bread (seriously, I hope this isn’t the reason)? Whatever it is, Peeta certainly doesn’t sound like an attractive male lead. Maybe that’s the point, but Peeta’s name still bugs me.
And we’re not even going to talk about Renesmee. (shudder)

J.R.R. Tolkien used the power of connotation and our linguistic heritage to give Middle Earth its intense depth of history. This article in the New Yorker explores the power of brand naming and linguistic connotations. Naming isn’t the most important thing we do as writers, but we can’t afford to overlook it.

Friday Frivolity: Fiction is GOOD for you!

Recently, the New York Times published an article on the neuroscientific effects fiction has on the brain. The upshot is, fiction doesn’t rot your brain, it stimulates it.

Photo by Jayel Aheram

As a lifelong bookworm, I’m doing a little happy dance in my chair. Clever metaphors, evocative words, intense emotions felt vicariously through readers…it all has a positive effect on the brain, stimulating multiple areas at once and giving us the next best thing to living out these experiences in real life.

My husband is always giving me a hard time for binge-reading fiction while neglecting non-fiction. I do agree that whenever I make myself read non-fiction I enjoy it, but fiction is my passion—and now I can come back at him with proof that all my fiction reading (apart from being excellent research for writing) is worthwhile.

Happy Friday to fiction lovers everywhere 🙂

Wednesday Writing: Starting your story with ‘Want’

Today’s Wednesday Writing is a short one since I’m only expanding on a tip I gleaned from a literary agent I follow on Twitter.

YES. RT @AdviceToWriters: Make your characters want something right away even if it’s only a glass of water. KURT VONNEGUT

I really like that idea. It’s so simple, and like Vonnegut says, it doesn’t have to be a big thing—maybe your character just wants to punish her little brother for quoting her diary at the dinner table—but just the simple desire and attempt to get something draws the reader in: will he/she get what he wants?

BUT (and this is a big caveat) it’s probably a good idea to make the wanting relevant to your overall plot.

  • Maybe your MC succeeds in punishing her little brother, but that rash act sets the plot in motion.
  • Maybe getting up for a simple glass of water means he’s awake at the right hour of the night to witnesses  a murder in his driveway.
  • Maybe the thing your MC wants is his big goal for the entire story.

Tie it together, and the reader’s interest won’t wane after a few pages in. You got them reading, don’t let them drop now!

Wednesday Writing: Broadway High Update

A few wonderful people have read Broadway High and given me some helpful feedback, including one person who recommended I try condensing the last three chapters into the story’s climax, leaving only a little bit of falling action instead of two chapters’ worth.

For any writer friends reading this, yes, I know better than to take forever to finish the story after the high point . . . the problem is, I didn’t realize what the high point was! With my focus on resolving the romance between the hero and heroine, I didn’t identify the musical’s opening night as the big finish—the point to which the whole novel is driving (the “final battle” in archetype lingo).

Maybe other readers will disagree about opening night being the climax, but now that I’ve spent the last two weeks trying to implement her suggestions, one thing is abundantly clear: I indulged myself a little too much with resolving the romance. So it’s being trimmed a bit (but I don’t think it’s losing anything . . . there was plenty of room to cut).

Once I’m happy with this revision to the ending, and I’ve done a few more tweaks to the rest of the story, I’ll be looking for another round of beta readers. Who’s in?

P.S. Why are there no pictures online of the BHS auditorium? Instead, you’ll have to settle for Tom and Natalie: 

Friday Frivolity: A Seusstastic Birthday

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

Green eggs and ham, I like them not,

But your wise books I loved a lot.

Your “One Fish, Two Fish” gave to me

Proof of my own literacy

And though my rhymes are blech as snot,

 Your books are gems for old and tot.

Aren’t you glad I’m not a poet?

How many of us giggled with Sam I Am, learned important lessons from Horton and the Lorax, and received Oh, the Places You’ll Go! as a graduation gift?

To this day, I still laugh when I see this image of the Grinch at his most vile (from the 1966 animated Christmas special) , and I can hear the narrator’s voice repeating Seuss’s words:

“And then he got an idea. An awful idea. The Grinch had a wonderful, awful idea.”

May all our ideas make us this happy. 

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