Monday, May 31, 2010

Great New-to-Me Blog...

First of all, Happy Memorial Day (<---that always sounds like an oxymoron to me, wishing "happiness" on such a somber day. But, I am happy that brave, selfless men and women have chosen to stand in harm's way for my freedom. THANK YOU to all of them!).

I'm adding a permalink at the left-hand menu, of a new blog I just found: Getting Past the Gatekeeper. This blog is fresh and funny and informative, written by an associate literary agent. Her entries are upbeat, knowledgeable, and really witty. The blog is already a favorite of mine!

Here's the link:

Enjoy -- Getting Past the Gatekeeper

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Yay, I'm Not Alone!

Chuck Sambuchino's blog just posted a wonderful entry today on rejection (great timing, eh?!). In it, he inserted this quote, which I LOVE (I had to read it twice to see how it related to rejections, but once I!):

Look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before. ~Jacob A. Riis

As well, he listed Nathan Bransford's entry - It's Not You; It's Odds and Resonance. Fabulous. (Nathan Bransford is a well-respected agent. And, he's cute! <--am I allowed to say that? *grin*). By the way, I've perma-linked Mr. Bransford's blog on the left-hand menu (and no, not because he's cute. ;-). He's got consistently-great things to say to writers!!

And finally, I enjoyed reading this #5 of "Reasons We Get Rejected," by Victoria Mixon:

You’re one heck of a writer, and you’ve written one heck of a book. But you know what?

You’re a little peanut. Floating on a very big, very rough, very, very, very littered sea. Everybody out here’s a peanut. (Except the folks on the NY Times best seller list, who are lying on deck chairs on a cruise ship on the horizon, trading witticism about litter on the waves in the golden sunset. Stephen King is the one wearing the captain’s hat.)

If we all got together, we could squish ourselves up and make peanut butter.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Fighting It...

Rejection. "I'm rejecting you." There's no way to tip-toe around how awful this can make you feel, hearing those words in life. From a boyfriend, from a potential employee, and yes, even from a literary agent.
The natural questions of doubt have started to arise: What if I'm just wasting time/spinning my wheels? What if I never get published? And probably the worst of all: What if I'm just not good enough?

At this point, I have a choice to make. Continue to wallow, to feel sad, to feel down (and, to be unproductive!) - OR - pick myself up, dust myself off, and remind myself of these FACTS:

* A rejection is NOT personal. Many, many times, a rejection has to do more with the agent's particular needs-of-the-moment. Or a lack of confidence in their abilities to sell the material. Or maybe they're just too swamped with other clients. There are SO many reasons an agent gives rejection. Why instantly assume it's because the writing was terrible?

* The odds against unpublished authors are ENORMOUS. I once read that the average agent receives upwards of 600 query letters - PER WEEK. And that from those 600 letters, they choose maybe 2 or 3 to pursue (to request chapters or full manuscripts). I think that says a lot. The competition is insane.

* Even the best/most famous authors went through rejection. Wow, look at this article, detailing how some of the most well-known authors endured rejection, too!

* Quitting GUARANTEES failure. If I don't submit queries/chapters, if I don't put myself out there, go to conferences, make contact with the right people, if I don't TRY -- I will NEVER get published. It's a 100% certainty.

And the most important fact of all:

* I don't write in order TO get published. I write because I love it. Because there are stories in my head that insist on being told, characters who force themselves to come to light. THAT is why I write. Because of the thrill I get when my fingers move on auto-pilot - when I'm so into a story that I lose all track of time. THAT is why I write. The potential publication would just be icing on top. But the cake is the writing process, itself.

Rejection is universal. It's going to happen, if you're putting yourself out there -- in life, in the publishing world. But it's how you handle that rejection that matters most, I think...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Curses! Rejected Again!

Okay. So, this morning, after months of waiting - I received a 3-sentence email rejection from Agent #1 (her reason for rejecting it? It was interesting and well-written, but was "too quiet"). *BIG sigh*

80% of me is actually FINE with this, in fact, giddy about it. Because it means that I'm finally FREE to send my book out to other agents

I've learned many hard lessons from this frustrating process, as I will probably share tomorrow in another entry.

The other 20% of me is frustrated/hurt/disappointed. Because this agent actually seemed interested! Interested enough to read chapters and ask for re-writes and re-submission! Sure, it stings. And sure, I'm not looking forward to starting from scratch all over again (which is what this feels like - back to Square One).

Onward and upward. That's the only attitude I can have right now. Because if I let the discouragement and frustration eat away at me, I'll be tempted to quit.

And I will never quit.

Where's that Rocky music when I need it? lol Oh - here it is!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Prompts Galore!

One of the highlights of my Creative Writing class (for me, and hopefully, for the students, as well) is our daily writing exercise, at the beginning of class. I use the "What If" book to give them a creative prompt, and the students write on it for about 20 minutes, then share (if they wish).

Well, here are some wonderful sites I wanted to pass along, that contain lots and lots of creative writing prompts:

Creative Writing Prompts

Creative Writing Assignments that Work

10 Creative Writing Activities

(These are for elementary students, but I think some of them are quite thought-provoking): Journal Topics

So, when you're feeling stuck or unmotivated, you might skim these and see if they help "prompt" your creative juices to flow!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Excuses, Excuses...

Just offering a little silliness on a Monday...

I thought these were cute ----> 101 Excuses Not to Write.

(I'm using #29 this week, with the series finales(!) of LOST and 24 *sniff sniff*)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Don't Shortchange the Muse!

Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can't fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal. ~William S. Burroughs

Great quote. To me, this just reinforces the idea of TRUTH. Even in fiction. The notion that we, as writers, must stay absolutely true to who we are as writers. I've blogged recently about being comfortable in your own writer's skin, about not trying to be someone/something you're not. It's sooooo important.

Also, I think this advice is relevant to the story/characters in fiction. If you're not being truthful about emotions or circumstances or character, it will show up as glaringly as a ketchup stain on the page. The writer will see when you're trying to be something you're not. They'll know when you're trying to push character/story too hard, or take things in an unnatural direction that they don't want to go. It reminds me of when writers "try" to make a reader cry. They set up a tear-jerker of a scene, with readers' tears as the main goal. Readers aren't stupid. They will see right through this and roll their eyes, rather than let tears fall from them. But -- if you write the scene with depth and honesty first, from a place deep inside yourself that is absolutely real, the reader will feel that and react.

Bottom line, don't take the risk of shortchanging the Muse. Let everything you write ring with absolute truth. Because if you take shortcuts or skimp on quality, or write something that deep inside your gut you know is not truthful -- then (even worse than shortchanging your Muse) --you're also shortchanging your reader. And that's never a good thing.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Irons in the Fire

Last week, I blogged about how I'm starting (and hopefully, finishing!) a brand-new novel this summer. The brainstorming process is underway. But I've also got some other irons in the fire right now...

Currently, I'm still waiting to hear back from the agent who requested re-writes months ago ).
I'm editing the last novel I wrote, a thankfully-short, Christmas-themed novel. I want to edit it so I can fully move on to my new project.

Whew. That's a lot. Especially for a "summer off." But -- I love it. I just do. This doesn't feel like work to me (although it can be very challenging and taxing, especially all this agent stuff). I love being this productive, and remember vividly all the times I wasn't this productive, for whatever reason (busy with family, school, health issues, life in general, even being burned out). But, while I do feel creative and motivated, I'm going to enjoy it and seize every opportunity. Carpe diem!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Let the Process Begin!

Starting a new novel always feels like starting over. And that's a good thing. I've been through this process a few times, now, but each time, it's different and fresh. And fun!

Here's a sampling of what I've done this past week:

* started a brainstorming file on my computer (I keep getting random bursts of creative ideas, so for now, I'm typing them, hodge-podge, into this file so I won't forget them)

* searched for title ideas (I always like to write several down early on in the process, then add to them along the way, and weed them out later on. For me, "the right" title takes a lot of time and thought...).

* created a screensaver (weird idea, I know, but I love walking into my computer room and seeing the landscape (in this case, the Cotswolds) of my novel flashing across my screen, as well as the characters (in my head, I "assign" certain actors or actresses to play the roles, so I can see them more clearly). It helps me visualize the basics of the setting/characters.

* started my basic plot outline and character profiles (these will take the most time and thought. I'll be working on them for the next couple of weeks, at least).

Like I said, fun! I love this part of the process, especially when I'm excited about the book, and when I'm invested in the seeds of a story that "sound" good in my head. The trouble is, of course, getting the ideas onto paper that way - the way I see it in my head. That's always the most challenging part.

*lifts up cyber-glass in a toast* So, here's to a summer of hopefully-fruitful writing. And to hoping that I can write that last page somewhere around the beginning of August (before the dreaded semester begins once more...).


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Writing = Immortality?

If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing. ~Benjamin Franklin (link)

Life isn't nearly long enough, is it? In the grand scheme of things, we're only here on this earth for a quick blip of time. This notion reminds me of a verse, James 4:14: What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. I happen to believe that we're immortal beings - that our spirits live on after we die. But what about here on this earth? Memories fade, and people sometimes seem to be forgotten as the generations pass.

It's human nature, to want to do something during our time on this earth to make sure we're not forgotten - to leave something behind, a legacy, our own little mark upon the world that says, "I was here." Some people take it to extremes, and seek fame. That's their way of gaining a bit of immortality on earth: Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Madonna - Seekers of Fame, names that will be known and remembered long after they're gone. Or, many people see their children as their immortality - a little genetic piece of themselves, staying behind, having more children of their own, continuing the cycle of life. Their own little piece of immortality on earth.

Another way we can gain "immortality" on this earth is by writing. Whether or not we ever get the privilege of having our work published, what we write is something we're leaving behind - for family members, for friends, for those who come after us. It's a little piece of our souls, a part of who we are. And I find that sort of beautiful.

Shakespeare himself wrote about this concept in the last 2 lines of his Sonnet 18. In it, he immortalizes his subject, just by writing the poem. He's virtually saying "even though you'll eventually die, your memory will still live on through this poem that I've written." And it does! Because, there I stand each semester at a lecturn, 400 years later, reading out these lines to students:

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see
So long lives this (poem), and this gives life to thee.

Shakespeare's subject lives on, centuries later, through those words.

Writing is powerful. And yes, I do think it can offer a small piece of immortality here on earth...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Think Like a Man...or Not?

So, for the second time, I'm going to center my next novel around a man's point-of-view. Scary, huh? lol Scary because I'm, obviously, not a man, and it's challenging, thinking like the opposite sex. At least, it is for me...

Still, the first time I used a male POV (last year), I found it easier than anticipated. I think it's because I tapped into his human qualities - things I could relate to, like fear, love, memory - rather than just the male mentality. Then, I tried to "wrap" those familiar qualities around a male perspective. The trick was not stereotyping him, not making him instantly less-emotional and more straightforward, simply because he was male. Also, it helped to think of men I've known throughout my life - father, brother, friends, ex-husband, etc. Just knowing their traits and their reactions to things helped greatly.

So, I guess my own personal way to write a different POV other than my own is not to "think like a man," but to "think like a human," and then try to filter those same emotions that EVERYONE feels, through a new perspective (in this case, male).

Today, a challenge: If you've never done this before, try writing a scene or story from the POV of someone totally different from you: opposite sex, 30 years younger/older, someone with the opposite personality or background as you, etc. It's amazing, how liberating it can be!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Finding YOUR Voice

Yesterday, I talked about finding a character's "voice." I mentioned that getting to know your characters inside and out is the KEY to finding their voice. Well, I believe the same principle applies to finding your own individual "writing voice." You have to know yourself well, be comfortable in your own skin, as a person, but even more so, as a writer.

It's even harder to define a writer's voice than it is a character's voice. Because "character" is limited to one particular book (or books, if it's a series). But a writer's voice is much broader. It's seen/felt in every single line, every word, every sentence of EVERY book, every character. For me, a writer's "voice" has almost everything to do with style. The way something is written, the word choices and descriptive choices the writer makes, the overall manner in which the writing is handled. The rhythm and length of sentences, the flow and pacing, the way exposition and dialogue are treated. Basically, "voice" answers the question - Who Are You, as a Writer?

One book I read said to think of "voice" like "tone of voice." Well, sort of...but I think it's more complex than that. I actually think "voice" has to do more with "personality." Is your tone often sarcastic? Or is it serious-minded? Witty? Or deep? Often, by the end of a semester, I can identify an individual student's paper just by reading the first paragraph. By that point, after 3 months, I know their individual writings styles quite well. Some are VERY distinctive, and others are a bit more generic. But I can usually tell by the way sentences are crafted, by the overall tone, and by the word choice, which student is which, without even looking at the name.

What's weird about voice is that you already have one, even if you're not aware of it. Like a fingerprint or a snowflake, your "voice" is uniquely yours. There's nobody like you in the world, with your exact background, thought patterns, sensibilities, personality. Thus, your writing voice is already just that unique. The trick is at least identifying it, relaxing inside it, then staying faithful to it. You'll know you've found your "voice" when you become comfortable in your writing style. If you think too much about it, you'll lose it again.

I think writers get into trouble when they consciously try to change their writing voice - when they go against the grain of who they are and try to become something they're not as writers. It doesn't mean we can't push or challenge ourselves as writers. Certainly, we must. But if we're fighting our own writing voice, our own natural style, it won't work. For instance, a writer can't "try" to sound like Stephen King or Anne Tyler or John Updike. It won't work. These authors have their own unique voice, and it's already taken. Nobody else can have it.

My best advice is to write from your gut. Listen to that inner editor that all of us has, and RELAX. If you're trying too hard to HAVE a voice, then your unique "voice" will be squelched. And if you're trying to mimic a certain writing style, it will come across as fake. Be who you are, and you'll find your "voice."

Monday, May 10, 2010

Finding Your Character's Voice

When writers talk about finding a "voice," it's an odd conversation. Because "voice" is not something cut-and-dried like, say, dialogue or description or exposition. "Voice" is something much more elusive, hard to pin down, difficult to define.

And, for me, "voice" is two-fold. I think there's the "voice" of the author (which has more to do with individual style) and then there's the "voice" of individual characters (which can't be totally separated from the author's voice, but I do think it's a separate issue).

Today, I wanted to examine the latter - the "voice" of a character. For me, "voice" is a mixture of things - characters' personality "voiced" through their actions, their speech patterns, their background experiences, their belief system. "Voice" is sort of a package deal.

If, for instance, your character is a strong Southerner, then "voice" will not just entail a Southern twang. It will also probably entail Southern values, mannerisms, speech patterns, way of living. Not in a stereotypical way, of course, but inside that character would be ingrained the "essence" of the South. And that becomes part of the character's "voice."

Ultimately, characters' "voice" is just a bigger snapshot of WHO they are as people. If you can capture that in your writing (through dialogue, narrative, direct thoughts), then you've got ahold of their "voice." I think one way to test whether your characters have their own unique voice is to see whether all or most of them sound/act ALIKE. If they do - if in comparison to each other, the characters feel generic, or are difficult to distinguish from other characters (in dialogue, or in action) - then perhaps their unique voice isn't coming through strongly enough...

Here's a wonderful, creative way to create authentic voice for your characters: A Voice Journal. If you were to ask me how to have a strong "voice" for characters, my first piece of advice would be to know the characters WELL, from top to bottom: their dreams, their fears, their quirks, their education/family background. Everything. Then, the "voice" will come much more naturally. It won't be forced. I think that's what this "voice journal" does, essentially - it helps you to get to know your characters well, freeing up their natural voice.

So -- how do YOU find a character's voice? Any tricks of the trade to share?

Friday, May 7, 2010


Today I wanted to share this link from a GREAT blog called Adventures in Writing. This post is about something we can all relate to - rejection. She has a witty/honest tone that I really enjoyed. I'm sure you'll enjoy it, too! ---> Link

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Writer's Bond

This morning, I told my Creative Writing class (while passing out their final exams) that I wasn't ready to "let go" of the class yet. And I meant it. Thankfully, this particular class has been amazing. They've attended class faithfully (and seemed to enjoy it). They've shared their work willingly (in fact, many times, they ASKED me if they could share, rather than my asking them). They've supported and encouraged each other. Yes, I'm sad to see them go.

Sure, I'll probably wave to a couple of them in the hall next semester, or might hear from one or two of them in the future, by email, updating me on their writing accomplishments. But as far as this particular mix of people being together in the same room in the future? It'll never happen again. And that's sort of sad.

This leads me to think about the unique bond that writers share. I get to see this in person, as I teach my classes. Students in Creative Writing classes, above all others, seem to have an immediate connection with one another, almost from the start. Strangers when they first enter, they soon develop strong friendships and bonds. (This rarely occurs in other English classes). These students speak the same language, share the same passions and frustrations about writing, have the same creative natures.

I think that's why it's challenging to say good-bye to these students. A few of them even wrote on their exams that they're sad to see the class end - that it was their favorite class, and that they'll miss the camaraderie (and writing deadlines!). That's not so much a tribute to me, as it is to the bonding they've done with each other, as a class, as a unit. Extremely special.

So, today, I'm thankful for the unspoken bond that all writers, to some degree, seem to share. Writing is an isolating endeavor - but a class like the one I've just been privileged to teach reminds me of the importance of getting out there, communicating with other writers, and gaining the courage to share your work, share your insecurities and dreams with them. It's important now and then to be reminded that we have comrades out there - comrades who know exactly what we're going through, as writers.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Eke It Out...

Self-Discipline is key for a writer. We can sit and brainstorm and think about plot/character development all day. But until we sit down and put pen to paper, nothing will come of it. Sure, it's difficult, turning off t.v.s', tuning out ringing cells, logging out of Facebook, in order to focus on writing. It's even harder during times when our livelihood takes absolute precedence - when we're forced to make that decision between our job and our "hobby."

This is final exams week for me - the past 2 weeks have been crazy-hectic, with all the grading required of me (250 essays!). But, somehow, I've managed to eke out a few minutes here and there to do some editing on my novel. It's about self-discipline, but it's also about something else, for me. I have a passion for writing, and though it's hard to find the brain power during weeks like these, my writing/editing is also a lovely escape from the grind. Ahhh....

So, today, if you're having trouble balancing work and work (writing), realize that you really don't have to choose. It's possible to do both (ask John Grisham, who, as a working lawyer, arose at 4am each morning, to write for an hour before getting ready for court). And, if you start seeing your writing as an escape from your job, rather than a burden, it becomes even easier. Truth be told, I'd rather write than grade, any day. So, it's not difficult for me to "choose" writing, even during super-stressful work weeks like these.

I issue a challenge -- no matter how busy you are with family life, work, duties/obligations, make time for writing. Eke it out. Just a few minutes is all you need. I promise, you'll feel better for it.