Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Much-Needed Jolt!

Last week, a teacher at work told me his wife wanted to read my book! We've never met, and I always feel shy about sharing my work (only because I'm afraid people won't like it - yep, it's that old Insecure Writer Who's Been Rejected By Agents For Years Syndrome (better known as WWBRBAFYS). Anyway, I sent her the book via email, a few chapters at a time. She warned me that she was a very slow reader (I am, too!), so I really didn't expect to hear from her until well after the holidays.

Well, she emailed me today (only days after I'd emailed her the 400 pages), and she said she "pulled an all-nighter" -- that she read the entire thing! She was so sweet and complimentary, and gave me detailed feedback, which I was so grateful for.

The very best compliment I could ever get is that someone read my book that quickly - because that means (hopefully) that he/she was absorbed in it, which is part of my goal, as a writer - taking readers into a different world and getting them "lost" inside it. How wonderful!

Anyway, all this was a much-needed jolt of confidence for me, especially after that Penguin rejection and more re-writes to do over these holidays. So, a big shout-out/thank-you to this particular person for making my day!! :-)

And a big HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all the readers! I hope you have a safe, healthy, and wonderful holiday!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Year of Editing

Looking back on this year, I realized that I did very little actual writing, but TONS of editing. At last count, I edited one manuscript (the first in my series) four times (with one final set of edits this month, so make that FIVE times), and the second novel twice. Let's see - both books are 400 pages, and each time I edit/revise, I go through the manuscript to make changes, move scenes around, delete, add, trim, etc - and then I read over the manuscript again for inconsistencies. That means I've read nearly 6,000 pages this year (heh, that doesn't include the 2,400 essays/papers I grade in one school year).

Yes, this has apparently been The Year of Editing, and my eyes/brain are exhausted.

But, I have hope that next year will be The Year of Writing!! Sure, revisions are a vital form of writing (I've had to create many, many brand-new scenes within the text of these novels) - but writing a book from start to finish? I miss it so much: the brainstorming process, the rough draft, the fleshing out characters, the completing a novel. I started writing Book 4 this past summer, but had to pause, to do more rewrites on Book 1. So, I'm eager to re-visit Book 4 in the New Year, with fresh eyes, and hopefully finish it during summer.

I'm totally convinced that my Year of Editing was necessary, and yes, it was terribly productive (and hopefully will produce some (published) results in 2011?). But I'll soon be ready to move on. To be a "writer" again. As much as I love all my characters, I've nearly worn out my welcome with them in Books 1 and 2, and am ready to move on to fresh characters soon. Can't wait to see what they have in store for me!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Music and Me

Just saw an interview with Barbra Streisand, where she was asked to explain a statement she once made years ago -- about "not liking singing all that much." Barbra Streisand? Doesn't like singing? Really??

When she had a chance to clarify, she said (I'm paraphrasing, here): "I love singing when it's just about the music and me. When I'm by myself, or recording, and it's just me with the notes, I LOVE it. But when an audience is involved, or when I know people have paid money to see me, that they're judging my performance - then suddenly, I'm aware of someone else in the room, and there's this pressure that takes away a little of the joy."

Just this past week, when I was telling my Creative Writing students about everything - my rewrites, having an agent, getting my novel "out there," then getting a rejection (and yes, a fair amount of criticism in that rejection), I said virtually the same thing about writing -- that I occasionally miss that time in my life when it was just about me and the writing. When nobody really cared what I wrote. Nobody looked over my shoulder, or judged it or critiqued it or offered changes. When there wasn't pressure to be "the best," to perform, to make people want to spend money on my work.

Even a teacher friend of mine told me today, as she was preparing some of her writing handouts to be bound (and eventually purchased by students) -- that when she sent them off to be duplicated, she felt an odd sensation of her "babies" being more "public," out of her hands, somehow. And again, I could very much relate to that feeling, with my writing.

I've also read blogs by published authors who say the same thing -- that it's not all "sunshine and roses," this publication process. And that, yes, they sometimes envy the writers who don't yet have agents, because their work is fully theirs at that time. And back then, whenever I read those blogs, I'd sort of roll my eyes a little and think, "Yeah, right. You lucky son-of-a-gun. You have an agent. I don't. Quit whining." lol But now, I think I know what they were saying. Just a little bit.

I hope no one mistakes this honest post for regret or ingratitude, or even whining. I'm incredibly blessed to have made it even this far, to have an agent I believe in, and who believes in my work. I'm still pinching myself. No regrets whatsoever. But when I heard Barbra Streisand say that, about "the music and me," I could relate on a small level.

Because once you put yourself "out there," once you put your writing out for public consumption, it does change your view of writing. Just a little. I guess it's the sacrifice that comes with publication (or, at least, trying to get published) -- the price you pay for wanting others to see your work. That it's not fully "yours" anymore. You're sharing it now. And if you want to get published, I guess you have to make peace with that...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Exceptional Resource!

From Galleycat, these "tips" for NaNoWriMo* are outstanding! The tips entail good, common-sense advice, and even tools for the writer (character-building questionnaires, plot diagrams, etc). A treasure trove of information for any writer!

I can't wait to peruse these when I have a bit more time!

*National Novel Writing Month - where writers get motivated and attempt to write a novel in one month!! I've never done that, but I did write one in 6 weeks (that's close enough, right?). I somehow managed to get 400 pages down in that amount of time (it was the tail end of my summer off, and I knew if I didn't finish the book before school started, I never would)...

Stepping Back...

So, I just got off the phone with my agent, and had a great conversation. We agreed to pause in the submission process (over the holidays, which is so wise - publishers get way too busy and distracted, from what I've read in articles/blogs). Also during that time, I'll make some more (minor) revisions to the novel. Then, in early January, my agent is planning to submit the book to about 5 publishers at once.

Sure, part of me is chomping at the bit, eager to submit it now, NOW, NOW! But, I totally agree with his judgment and think it's the most logical thing to do, stepping back, revising again, then submitting after the holidays.

Even though I felt the sting of disappointment yesterday (with the publisher's rejection), I'm feeling newly-energized with this plan of action. I know I'm capable of making those revisions (and I thankfully agree with them!), and I can't wait to have a nice (working) holiday, then start 2011 afresh (with an agent(!) -- still pinching myself on that!) with a plan to submit to publishers.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It's a "No."

Darn it. I had prepared myself for the probability of rejection, but yes, it STINGS. Ugh.

My agent just sent me the actual rejection letter from the publisher - she was "charmed" by my book and said it was a "close decision" (drat!), but found a couple of storylines to be too thin. And, she wanted it to be racier. Hmm. This series is admittedly old-fashioned in tone, so I guess we just weren't on the same page.

Onward and upward! I'll keep y'all posted on things. The wait might be significant, though. That publisher had a 2-week exclusive, but now that we'll probably send the book out on multiple submission, it could take weeks or months. I'll need to hold my breath well through the holidays, at least.

But that's okay -- I'm in need of a BREAK!! Holidays, here I come! ;-)

Monday, November 15, 2010

No News is....No News?

So, I haven't heard a peep yet, about the publisher's decision regarding my novel. Is that good? Is that bad? I really have no idea at this point.

I'm actually totally okay with it -- I guess years of waiting on agent responses has prepared me well for this. *shrug*

I'm going to assume the editor's been too busy to get to my book, and that, eventually, I will hear something either way. I'll try my best to give it another week (in my own head, at least) so that I won't go crazy, wondering, day-by-day...

Y'all will be among the first to know, whatever the response!! ;-)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It's Like Christmas Eve!

So, tomorrow marks THE day I'm supposed to hear something from the editor who's got my book! She's had a 2-week exclusive and tomorrow is the deadline.

Tonight feels so odd - the anticipation is growing with each hour that gets closer. It feels like waiting on Christmas morning! And I'm guaranteed one of three scenarios: Christmas cheer (a book deal!), coal in my stocking (a rejection), or....nothing at all (if she's been too busy to meet the deadline).

Here's hoping for Scenario #1! *raises glass of eggnog and toasts whoever's reading this* lol

Wonder if I'll be able to sleep tonight! ;-)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Never Throw Anything Away

I've heard (and given) this advice many times over: When you edit your work, don't ever delete the previous draft. Save the new revisions under a new name.

This advice came in very handy today, as I was editing Book 2. I realized I hadn't properly described some elaborate gardens of a Manor which plays a key role in certain scenes.

Well, long ago, in Book 1, I recall that I had spent time describing said gardens in great detail. But -- while editing that first book, I'd removed that scene entirely. So, today, I went in search of that scene. I found an old version of the book, saved from 2007, and after some scrolling down and looking around, Voila! There it was, the two paragraphs of description I needed.

I love it when that happens. And even though it took me a little bit of time to find the scene (probably just as much as it would have taken to write it again, fresh), it was worth it. Because that particular description happened to be just the one I needed.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Speaking of Waiting...

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about the agony of waiting. Good timing, because the KidLit agent site has just posted a great new entry on waiting! I wasn't going to post again today, but when I read this, I knew I had to share.

From an agent's point of view, wonderful info/advice (with a hilarious tone, btw): Is Waiting a Bad Sign?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Waiting...of a Different Sort

So, this is Day 11, waiting on the Penguin publisher to make a decision about my novel. (<--did I just write that sentence? Still in shock! lol). My agent gave her a 14-day exclusive, so really, I could hear something any day, now. Or not. *bites nails*

I'm having de ja vu, remembering all the waiting around I did on various agents who'd requested my full manuscript over the years. The longest wait was 18 months (yikes!), and the shortest wait was two days (the agent I signed with!).

Waiting is just part of the business - whether you're waiting on an agent or publisher. Granted, waiting on a publisher is a waiting of a slightly-different sort. It seems like a faster process (of course, I've only just begun and could be totally naive about that), and it's pretty cool, having someone else (the agent) waiting alongside me, also feeling invested in this publisher's decision. And sure, with this particular wait, I'm one step closer to the publication process than I was with agents - but - just as when I was waiting on agents, it could go either way. Either a "yes" or a "no," which would put me right back to Square One again.

I think what we writers choose to do with our time during the wait is important. Sure, it's tempting to refresh our email boxes 100 times a day, or wring our hands and imagine all the possible "what if" scenarios, wondering why it's taking so long to hear something. But I've learned to fight that (as much as humanly possible) by channeling my energy into one thing: writing. Or editing, like I'm doing now.

I need to have Book 2 ready to go, so that's what I'm trying to do, to keep my anxious mind occupied. So far, I've made lots of progress. The waiting period can actually be extremely productive! ;-)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Save the Words!!

LOL at this, from GalleyCat: Save The Words.

It's a site where one can "adopt" the going-out-of-style words that are on their way to extinction.

The condition for said adoption is that you have to promise to try and fit the word into daily conversation as often as possible!

"Pick me!" "No, pick me!" Ha!! I love a good, dry literary sense of humor....

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lessons from Harry Potter?

I haven't read the Harry Potter series (I know, I know - *hangs head*), but I have watched all the movies and really enjoy them.

Anyway, here's a cool link to Nathan Bransford's blog, about what we writers can learn from Harry Potter (or, rather, from J.K. Rowling).

Fascinating stuff and great advice! I highly recommend the article, even if you're not a HP fan.

The Zone

The other day, I watched Huey Lewis being interviewed on a talk show. I'm a Child of the 80's, so I loved hearing him talk about music, about his band. Interestingly, something he said made me think about the writing process.

He said that sometimes, when he gets on stage with his band - when they start playing and they're really into the music and they look at each other for a second and they're all in tune, in rhythm - he said that sometimes, in that moment, the music just plays itself. Like magic.

And so many times, I'll discuss with my Creative Writing students about "The Zone." That rare place in the writing process when you're completely oblivious to anything else - even to your own hands dancing across the keyboard. You're THERE. In another place, another dimension. And the scene seems to write itself. The characters take over, do what they want, say what they want.

That's where the magic happens, I think, no matter what the art form - writing, photography, music, painting. And, if we're honest with ourselves, I think that we write, in great part, for that zone. Toward it. In hopes of experiencing it, tapping into it. It's the sweet spot, the lightning in a bottle. The moment we're transported from where we are to somewhere else.

No, we can't force it - and the harder we try, the faster it scurries away. But, when it does occur, to quote Huey Lewis again, "There's nothing else in the world like it." Couldn't agree more!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Degrees of Writing

I just read this fantastic quote by Anne Lamott (she has a wonderful writing book, called Bird by Bird, that I used to assign my students):

Writing is about hypnotizing yourself into believing in yourself, getting some work done, then un-hypnotizing yourself and going over the material coldly.

I'm not even sure this is the way Ms. Lamott meant it, but I interpret it this way (regarding the writing/editing process): There's an emotion, a raw quality that must be inserted into a rough draft. It's important to "feel" the characters, what they're going through - to empathize with them, so that the reader will, too.

But that emotion really does have to be squelched when it comes to the editing process. We have to look at it "cold." We need to be brutal about slashing words and phrases, even storylines and characters that do not belong. It's tough to do that. Sometimes, it feels impossible. I'm experiencing that right now, as I edit Book 2. I'm trimming the fat, cutting or rearranging whole scenes or pages of dialogue, taking out and adding in. This is the time when emotion can't factor into the editing decisions (at least, not to a great degree). I think we have to look at it "coldly," with distance. An editor's eye. And back to the rough draft - the opposite is true. If we look at a rough draft coldly, we remove its heart, its emotion.

In terms of writing, I think there's a time to be warm, and a time to be cold.


I was thinking about this the other day, while revising Book 2 of my series. How the process of writing is so multi-layered, so incredibly complex.

Writing isn't just about telling a story. We have to do so much more than that: brainstorm, outline, prepare, research, write, re-write, edit, proofread. And that doesn't even include the juggling we do, just to tell the story. We have to know about grammar and formatting, about plot and character, about setting and tone. About pacing and dialogue, exposition and flashback, punctuation and description. And then, of course, there's the all-important "showing-not-telling," and making the plot and characters "ring true."

Whew. I'm tired, just thinking about it.

It's such an intricate balance of things, telling a story. If one element is missing, or needs work, it throws the rest of the story out of whack.

I guess I've learned to tell the story the best way I can in the rough draft, not concerning myself too much with anything else. Then, upon many other read-throughs, I can catch those other things. I can look for my known weaknesses and isolate them (dashes!!! passive voice!!! lol). I can focus more specifically on things like pacing, or on detail and cliches and character development.

I really think we writers have to be jacks-of-all-trades. And if I think too hard about it, this whole process can get quite overwhelming. That's why I try to slow down and focus on one thing at a time. Stone by stone. Brick by brick.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

You've Gotta Love It

I was thinking about this the other day -- no wonder some people in my life used to (and still do?) view my passion for writing as "crazy." Let's do the math, shall we?

17 years
8 and 1/2 novels
3,000 pages (give or take)
150 agents (<--that was just the round of agents from 2010 - doesn't even count previous years)
hundreds of hours spent researching agents
hundreds, probably thousands of dollars spent sending out batches of chapters and full manuscripts (one, Fed-Exed at the agent's request, was $80!!)
= incredible amounts of time and money.

Income I've actually earned from all this, so far? ZERO, zip, nada. Not a single dime.

Okay, yep, that's insane. Who else would spend that many hours, that much money, on something with NO GUARANTEE of getting rewarded monetarily, or even rewarded emotionally (ie, other people reading what I've created and enjoying it)?

My conclusion after seeing this in black and white -- you gotta love it. You have to LOVE writing to put up with its frustrations, setbacks, criticism, and agony.

And, truly, if I ever had any doubt about my sole purpose for writing (which is to write, and not to get published, as the primary or sole goal), doing the math showed me for sure. Because I would've given up AGES ago, trust me, if publication had been my only goal. Because it's just too hard. And too expensive. And too unsure.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - if someone could see my future inside a crystal ball and tell me with absolute certainty that my books would never be published, I would NOT STOP WRITING THEM. I guess that's the true test.

I have to write. I want to write.

If I get published, YAY!! But if I don't, so be it.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Inner Editor

I'm sure I've mentioned this in a previous entry (or entries), but it's good to reiterate it -- always, always listen to your gut. That still, small voice that tells you something's not quite right with a scene, with dialogue, with a plotline. What I call the "inner editor."

How many times has this happened to you: You hand over your precious novel to a trusted friend, and if they're honest enough, they'll tell you that a certain scene, or phrase, or even character, isn't quite "working." That something just doesn't fit. And how many times do you find yourself already knowing it? Deep down inside, as you were writing that particular scene or chapter, you knew it, too. That something wasn't quite right.

That's happened to me MANY times. Especially when an agent in the past would be gracious enough to offer me feedback and make suggestions on my novel. Nearly every time, I found myself nodding at their email, agreeing with the change, already knowing something was wrong.

How much time I could've saved myself, if only I would've LISTENED to that inner editor! But I'm getting better at it, paying attention to him.

Just this morning, in fact, I spent lots of time reworking the beginning of Book 2 in my series. That all-important first paragraph. I ended up writing about five different versions of the first paragraph before I was satisfied. Before I found the one. And you know what? When I wrote the one, I didn't pause, not for a second. It flowed out of me. I didn't stop to question whether it was right -- I just knew it. I guess I was getting confirmation from my inner editor. No red flags, no snags, no doubts. Whew.

It takes extra brain power, extra time and energy, to keep fighting until you get it "right." But it's always worth it!

Friday, November 5, 2010

To Series or Not to Series?

I was talking to my mom yesterday about my women's fiction series -- and how, when I sat down to write the very first novel (I'm on Book #4, currently), I didn't envision it as a series. I hadn't planned on a series.

But, what made me turn it into a series was that I didn't want to leave that "place" yet. I wasn't ready to say good-bye to the characters, or to the setting (the beautiful Cotswolds). I still had stories to tell. And so, the series idea was born.

I'm sort of glad it came about that way -- that I didn't really sit down and plan out a series from the get-go (nothing wrong with that, of course). I love that it just seemed to make sense, that when I neared the end of Book 1, I wasn't ready to leave. It showed me I was on the right track, expanding into a series. And that, just maybe, if future readers picked up Book 1, they too would want to stay a little longer (and, thus, buy Book 2, lol).

I'm no expert on series, but I'd say that if you're thinking about doing one, make sure it's something you can sustain over more than one book. And that you, as the writer, won't bore easily of the setting/characters. Because when you get bored, so will the reader.

Another "plus" for the series (besides the obvious marketing advantage of people having the incentive to read more than just one book) is that, as a writer, my setting is already fixed. Most of my characters are already in place, already fleshed out. It's not that I don't still have work to do, but much of the time-consuming parts of writing a first novel take care of themselves in the second, third, fourth books of a series. Thus, I find that I have more time to devote to plot, since I already know the setting and characters so well.

I never, ever saw myself as a "series" writer. Never. It wasn't a goal of mine. But, somehow, I guess I have become a series writer. And I must say, I love it!

Don't Quit Your Day Job!

I find it cute, and sort of endearing, how many well-meaning friends/acquaintances have come up to me in the past two weeks (since I've signed with my agent) and said a version of this: "Are you about to be famous?!" "Are you about to be super-rich?!"

I think they're kidding, but they might not be. I think most people (who aren't writers!) have a false impression about what getting published really means. And, even before that, what getting an AGENT means. I find myself carefully explaining to these friends that my getting an agent ups my chance for publication, but still doesn't guarantee it. Many seem to think that "agent" and "publisher" are one and the same...

And, they don't realize - even if I do get published someday, I'm a first-time nobody, in the publishing world. I don't have a "name." A publisher certainly won't be shoving handfuls of cash in my direction, or guaranteeing they'll publish my next book. And the next and the next. (By the way, I think that an advance for a first-time author is around $7,000-$10,000. Sure, that's good money, but it's not going to sustain someone year-to-year). Getting published doesn't guarantee a CAREER (as much as I'd love for it to). In fact, something like only 4% of novelists can actually make a living at it (I think that's what I read somewhere...).

So, nope - I certainly can't quit my day job! (Not yet, at least. ;-)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wisdom from Yoda

I adore the Star Wars series. Yoda, especially, cracks me up. That weird voice of his, the inverted language, the bold determination coming from that small, hunched-over frame...

And I never really thought of it before, but he was full of wisdom. Sparse, inverted wisdom - but wisdom, nonetheless.

Here's a good example. I read this the other day, and thought of how much it applies to the writing process. I've been asked dozens of times before, by students and other writers - How can a writer get motivated/disciplined? How do we make ourselves be productive?

From now on, I think I'll respond to them (and, to myself) with Yoda's wisdom: Do or do not. There is no try.

Profound, isn't it? Don't just "try." Instead, DO. Sit down, poise your fingers on the keyboard, and write something. Anything. Because anything is better than nothing.

Here's that scene - see it from a writer's perspective. Wow, it really fits, doesn't it? Frustrated writer: "I'll never do it..." Feeling he/she isn't worthy, isn't capable, wants to quit. Yoda shaking his little green head, and saying simply - DO.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Cliche-Finder

LOL - GalleyCat recently posted this link to something called a "Cliche-Finder." It posts 10 random cliches (with a button to push for more).

Sure, it's an amusing little time-waster, but it's also valuable to writers as a tool, to recognize cliches. I always teach my classes to avoid cliches like the plague (lol) because cliches show lazy writing. I learned this pretty late in my writing journey, but once I realized how to recognize them -- and why it was important to avoid them -- my writing started becoming more fresh, more original.

Why are cliches so bad? Well, using cliches means we're leaning upon another writer's clever way of describing something. It's not plagiarism (because the phrases are so common). But it is "borrowing," in a sense. Using something we've heard before. Something that wasn't ours, to begin with...

Plus, cliches, by their nature, aren't unique, original, special. And we should always be striving for "unique, original, special" in our writing.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I Love This Blog!

Yes, I do mean my own blog, but NO, it's not the arrogant statement it seems, lol.

What I mean is that I love this blog's purpose -- that I can come here, to this safe little place on the web, and talk (and talk and talk) about my passion, writing. And that I'm not (hopefully!) bugging anyone BY talking about writing.

Because sometimes, in my regular life, I'm afraid I'll go too far by talking too often about writing, with people who really don't care. Or maybe they do care, but just not as much as I care (about writing).

So, that's why I love this blog. I love that it allows me to talk about writing every day, if I want to, and to know I'm not burdening or boring anyone (again, hopefully not!). That those who read my words are choosing to seek them out -- and that those readers are probably just like me: writers who have a passion for writing. Who rarely get tired of hearing about or reading about our craft, or other people's experiences or other people's writing journeys.

I'm so glad that there's a group "out there" who understands, and who allows me to write...about writing! So, thanks!!! ;-)