Monday, September 1, 2014

We're Back! - and Tenacity

We never did an official sign-off, but just mutually decided one day last year to take a break. For about the last month or so, we have been working behind the scenes, creating plans, forming ideas, and we are quite excited to be back.

At this point, we plan for a post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, sharing what we have learned in this jungle of a writing life. There are certain to be some lessons we learn or have learned through overcoming setbacks, advancements and all the learning curves.

When I thought of what my first post back would be about, I had all these brilliant ideas. But then I decided to harvest apples from a tree on the west side of my yard, and wanted more than I could grasp on solid ground. Grabbing a folding chair, I was able to reach more. I cleared all within my reach and moved to another spot.

I thought I knew what I was doing.

I thought the ground and support were sufficient.

But the chair I was on folded and I went down. I smashed my finger between the chair and once clear, I thought the healing could start, until I tried to put ice on my hand. Normally light weight was very VERY heavy. And I could feel something rubbing together within my hand. An x-ray confirmed what I expected. It's broken and in such as way that surgery is necessary to fix it.

By they way, it is my right hand. By the way, I'm right-handed.

To say this has thrown a wrench in the works of my life is quite an understatement. I'm typing this post (and everything for a while) with just the index and thumb of my right hand, and two bandages on the left. And lots and lots of the delete button.

And yet, I write. Because when you are driven by something, challenges big or small can't be the end game. If you are reading this blog, published or not, represented or not, querying or not, there is a necessity to acknowledge that no one in this business got all yesses, all four or five star reviews, all praise and admiration.

Each and every one had to dig deep within themselves, have the conversation about the reason they write. Everyone at some point recognized they write because they can imagine life without it.

And when you have something within you that causes that kind of response, you can still feel the sting of setback, the tired tears of tenacity, but they aren't the end all. Passion for something in life is the essence of many novels and movies, the things characters for centuries have sought to discover. Match that with drive and learning, and there is the formula for eventual success.

How do you overcome setbacks in writing and life? Who is your favorite character that fought through struggles to eventually succeed?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Writing at your own pace

Just over a year ago, I brought a baby into the world 11 weeks early. He was tiny, only 3 lbs 4 oz, and in the weeks and months that followed, I worried that he wasn't growing as well as he should.

Today, that baby is a healthy almost twenty pound one year old. Of course, he doesn't act like a twelve month old. He acts like a healthy ten month old (which is really what he is).

Even so, every time I realize that another baby is progressing faster than he is, I worry. He just learned to crawl this last week, but a friend's seven month old is starting to stand. Does this mean something's wrong? Not necessarily.

Most of us recognize that there's a wide range of healthy development in growing babies. But I think sometimes we forget that there's a similarly wide range of healthy development in growing novels.

I struggle sometimes hearing stories from friends or writer acquaintances who have drafted their novel in a manner of weeks, even days. Or who snag an agent their first time querying. Or who revise at a phenomenal pace. (I could go on and on).

The truth is, none of us are exactly the same. We don't think the same way, our life circumstances differ, and we work at different rates. Unless our comparisons with other writers provides us with healthy motivation, we shouldn't let it worry us. (Easier said than done, I know!)

The only marker of progression that should matter is: are you making progress in some way or form? Are you a little better at writing this month than you were last month?

And maybe--do you love what you do?

Because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter if my baby (or fledgling novel) is progressing at the same rate as someone else's. I love him anyway.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Neil Gaiman and Imperfection

Recently I've been reading Neil Gaiman's American Gods (fascinating, btw). And, being the writer (*ahem*), nerd, that I am, I started by reading the forward to the book, which Gaiman had written for its 10th anniversary.

Gaiman talks about the unexpected, difficult, and delightful process of writing the book. As I'm currently in the middle of drafting a book that frequently seems too big for me, his comments were timely, and inspiring.

Of this novel (which received much critical acclaim), he writes:
I was always aware of how very far short it fell of the beautiful, golden, gleaming, perfect book I had in my head, but even so, it made me happy.
Of novels in general, he adds:
A novel can best be defined as a long piece of prose with something wrong with it.
Central to both these observations is the idea of imperfection: Nothing we write is going to be as perfect as we hope. (I mean, seriously, if an author as talented as Gaiman struggles with the gap between his ideal and reality, there's not much hope for the rest of us!)

But I think this imperfection is a good thing.  It means, among other things, that we shouldn't lose faith in ourselves or our manuscripts just because we struggle with something to hard or too complex or too whatever. That kind of struggle is normal.

It also means that there's always room to improve--which, for me at least, is an encouraging thought.
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When we reach a point at which we know what we're doing as writers, we reach a point where we risk stagnation.

Gaiman also shares this profound observation, from writer Gene Wolff:
"You never learn how to write a novel," he told me, "You only learn to write the novel you're on."
 So, to those of us still struggling to learn how to write the novel we're on, here's to imperfection. Here's to working hard, to reaching toward our vision--but also, at the end of the day, simply trying to write something that makes us happy, warts and all.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A little humility is good for the (writer's) soul

There seems to be this general conception of writers as confident creatures with larger-than-life egos (think Richard Castle, from Castle).

Those of us who actually are writers know, of course, that such raging egos can easily mask a raging sense of insecurity.

And while I believe we all need to have faith in our ideas, occasional insecurity isn't such a bad thing, especially if it motivates us to learn more about our craft.

Sometimes I find myself skimming over new posts on writing, thinking to myself, "Yeah, I got this--I already know this." This reaction, I think, is dangerous--to anyone, but particularly for writers. In my case, while I've relatively recently reconverted to the fiction writing of my youth, I do have lots of experience with reading and writing: a PhD in English and more than ten years teaching writing classes. It's easy for me to think I know what I need to know, when, in fact, if I did know all that, I'd already have a book contract.

Even for experienced authors, it's important to keep learning, to keep challenging oneself as a writer and a thinker. Otherwise our writing stagnates.

My new challenge, particularly as I'm heading to a writer's conference later this week, is to try to keep an open mind about my craft. You never know--I might just learn something!


What kinds of writing advice have you been surprised by? Have you ever come across good advice in an unexpected place? 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Getting past a temporary block

This last week, I hit 20,000 words in my new WIP--and stopped.

The idea, which had seemed so shiny and enticing, suddenly seemed a little tarnished and more than a little silly. I had no idea what I was doing; I wondered why I was trying to write at all. Sound familiar?

A few things helped me get perspective and move through my block, so I thought I'd share them here. You know, on the off chance that other writers get stuck or experience moments of insecurity. (If it's just me, please don't tell me.)

The first thing was this little gem from Stephen King, shared by my CP and fellow blogger, Tasha

Sometimes we just have to keep working.

The second thing was a blog post on braided writing--in particular, this line from author Heather Sellers: "To get across the middle you must involve some element of discovery--something you have to figure out as you write."

In other words, it's okay that I don't know what's going to happen next in my story. In fact, this might just be an opportunity for discovery. After all, this is just a draft--a work-in-progress. The whole point is that it's supposed to be messy. 

And the final thing was just a short post by author Shannon Hale on Facebook: "When writing a first draft I know mostly what happens in the story but not yet why it matters." If a writer I admire as much as Ms. Hale can confess that even her first drafts are pretty thin, then there's still hope for mine.

For me, all this means that my general feeling of "this-writing-is-crap" is perfectly normal. (It may even be healthy, because it means I recognize that there's still room for improvement). 

Perfection will not happen in this draft. Heck, it probably won't happen ever. But each draft brings me a little closer to the ideal I have in my head. 

I just have to get through this draft, one page at a time.

What helps you move through your doubts about your writing? What keeps you motivated?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Having Confidence in Yourself

One of the hardest parts of being an aspiring writer is learning to trust yourself and your abilities. Sometimes, you can go for weeks, months, even years without getting the kind of positive feedback we crave, like a request for a partial manuscript (better yet, a full), winning contests, etc.

We can't always rely on critique partners to bolster our flagging confidence, either, although mine are admittedly awesome and I do generally feel like a better writer after hanging around with them.

But I think that ultimately, the primary voice we need to listen to is our own.

Sometimes, that's easier said than done.

In high school, I once attended a Junior Science and Humanities Symposium in the state capitol. My roommate and I had a lot of fun at the three day event, especially since, as girls, we were drastically outnumbered by smart boys. For the most part, I followed my roommate around and enjoyed the fruits of her outgoing personality: she was pretty, funny, and dynamic and there were always a lot of boys around her.

After I got home, however, I got a call from one of the boys who'd been following us around at the conference. He wanted to know if I'd go out with him. Of course I was flattered, but as someone who didn't date a lot in high school, I couldn't help wondering if this poor boy had, perhaps, gotten my name confused with my erstwhile roommate. (I was immensely relieved, when he showed up, to find that he wasn't surprised to see me at the door.)

(note: This isn't me, though the girl looks strangely like me in high school. Maybe a 50-year doppleganger?)

So what does this story have to do with writing? On Monday I posted a little about participating in PitchMadness. One of the agent requests was for a flattering full manuscript--but I have to admit that my very first thought was: is she sure she wants mine? Maybe she got it confused with a different manuscript. Of course, this attitude doesn't do justice to either myself or to the agent. Of course she wants mine--she's a professional, and I worked hard to make my entry the best I could.

So, my new goal is to have a little more faith in myself. After all, if I don't believe in myself and my book--why should I expect anyone else too?

What do you do when your faith in yourself and/or your writing is challenged?

Monday, April 1, 2013

A few of my favorite writing contests

After recently participating in the (good) craziness that is PitchMadness, I've decided that I am officially a fan of online agent contests.

Not, of course, that I've actually netted an agent yet (hence continued participation in these contests!). But I do think that they are a great way to get a sense for some of the other writing that's out there (my first contest, I was shocked by how *good* some of the stuff was), figure out a good way to pitch your own work, get over your fear of putting your work "out there" (twitter pitching, for me, is intimidatingly public), and connect with other writers. They can also be a good way to attract agents who might not otherwise have considered your work.

Here are just a few of the online contests that I know of that I think are worth considering if you're hunting for an agent:

Monthly Contests
  • Operation Awesome's Mystery Agent Contests: the first of each month, Operation Awesome Hosts a contest where a mystery agent (identity revealed when the contest is over) picks their favorite of that month's entry. April's contest is the 1st (today!), so head on over if you're interested. The entry requirements vary by agent, but this month it's looking like dark YA and MG.
  • Mother.Write.Repeat hosts a monthly contest, called "The Agents Inbox," where writers submit queries and the first pages of their novel and the agent critiques each one before choosing a winner. A great opportunity to get agent feedback.
  • Miss Snark's First Victim also hosts a monthly secret agent contest. MSFV invites all those who enter to comment on other people's entries--I know Tasha, Elaine and I have all participated and had some good feedback this way. MSFV was one of the first contests I actually won--even though that partial request turned into a "no" it was a good confidence boost for me.
Annual or Semi-Annual Contests
  • Miss Snark's First Victim also hosts an awesome contest each December, The Baker's Dozen. Authoress and her minions go through all the entries and select those that they think will have the most agent appeal, so just entering isn't always a guarantee that you'll get in. It does also cost money to enter, but I entered without getting in and still felt like it was worth it for the chance. My favorite part about this particular contest is the chance to watch the agents try to outbid each other--not only does it give you a great sense of what particular agents are looking for, but some of the trash talk is hilarious.
  • Mother.Write.Repeat, along with LoveYA, Cupid's Literary Connection and Brenda Drake hosted "The Writer's Voice" last May, and they're doing it again this year. For this contest, each of the sponsoring blogs chooses a "team" of strong writing entries and compete for agent attention. One of the cool things about this contest was that even those who weren't chosen had an opportunity to have their submission posted on a blog and get feedback from other entrants.
  • Brenda Drake (along with her minions and slush zombies) also put together the massive endeavor that was PitchMadness. Here again writers submit a pitch and their first 250, then the contest coordinators chose 64 to vie for agent attention. I lucked out this time with a full request (!) and some partials, so I'm definitely glad I entered. I don't know when the next one will be, but if you follow @brendadrake, I'm sure you'll get the details on the others.
  • PitchMas, hosted by @JessaRusso and @FeakySnucker, is a twice-yearly contest (in July and December), where writers submit pitches, which agents then comb through and make requests.
Twitter Pitch Parties
  • Both PitchMadness and PitchMas have been followed up by a twitter pitch party (#PitMad and #PitchMas) where you post your 140 twitter pitch for your novel and interested agents are invited to check out the hash tag. I haven't personally had much luck with twitter pitches, but some writers have--if nothing else, writing a twitter pitch forces you to clarify the focus of your novel!

What other online contests have you participated in? What good ones am I missing here?