Saturday, April 30, 2011

Presentation for the local Writer's Guild

I gave my presentation on organizing your writing with software this morning. We had very few people in attendance, which was disappointing, but many people had other obligations come up (family issues, flooding issues, etc.) so that's understandable.

It went well, but I talked too fast. I have a couple strategies to use next time to slow myself down, but that teacher attitude of "gotta get the material in before the bell" gets to me sometimes. ;-)

Now I'm going to present the idea to the state writer's guild and see if they'd accept that as a presentation for next year's convention. They didn't have anything like my presentation this year, and I think people would be interested in learning/sharing ideas of how to get better organized.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Patience is a terrible thing to waste

As I sit here with my knee elevated, enduring the discomfort of the switch out between icepack and heat wrap, I wonder when (if) I will ever learn to be patient. There's a fine line between busting your butt to achieve more and working so hard you hurt yourself, and I've crossed it physically. Now comes the waiting for my knee to heal. I hate waiting. But if I ever want to run again (or even walk without a limp), I need to be patient and give my knee a rest.

I'm also waiting on possible new job interviews, a call from an agent (hopefully telling me my novel is the best thing to hit fantasy since Industrial Light and Magic) and for my husband to get home out of the stormy night. I hate waiting. But if I want to be a successful employee/writer/wife, I have to learn to wait with grace.

So in the meantime I'll write. I'll read. I'll work while I'm waiting. But that doesn't mean I like it any more.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Brain dead

I'm so tired and overwhelmed I almost can't put words together. It feels like mentally wading through quicksand or breathing shaving cream.

There are so many things I need to do for work, for writing, for my social groups, for myself, for my family, etc. etc. And it's raining again (still) and I'm worried about all the people in danger of losing stuff and lives to the flooding. There's just too much to deal with at the moment.

(deep breath) It's days like this I have to remember to take one step at a time. Physically and mentally I'm done for the day. Best call it a night and start fresh in the morning.  I can't solve every problem and I can't win every war all at once. So tomorrow I'll do one more thing, then one more, then one more. Eventually it'll all get done or it wasn't really that important in the first place.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Write every day...right!

It's like eating broccoli. You need to do it. It's good for you. Some of us even like broccoli on occasion. But writing something every day? What if I don't have anything to say? What if I'm too busy? What if it's raining so hard outside that I can't think past is my basement flooded yet?

Yes, I contend that writers must write everyday, that we always have something to say, that if we're too busy to write then we need to look at our priorities, and that when distractions occur we need to have a plan ahead of time.

Is that to say that people who don't write every day aren't writers? Of course not. It's where your focus is. If you have kids, have an intense/stressful job, family drama, water in your basement, etc., that's probably where your focus is. No sin in that. But for those of us who can and are willing to give up daily TV watching, social events, and do laundry in all-day marathons, etc., we can put our focus into writing. There are those amazing individuals who can do the career/family and writing all at once (amazing, stressed-out, crazy people), but I'm not one of them.

And who's to say you can't change your focus? Once the kids are gone, once the basement is dry again, go back to writing. It'll be there waiting, just like the trusty dog that loves you no matter what.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


While at work do you ever think, "I'd really love to be home writing," but when you get home you're too tired/distracted to write? You'd rather watch TV or sleep or some other mindless drivel? Yeah, I have this problem, too. Often. Usually Monday through Friday and sometimes on the weekends when I really get lazy. However, I learned something today to beat that attitude and it came from my running lesson.

I'm a new runner. Nearly 39 years old and never wanted to run, never could run when I tried. But a couple friends encouraged me to enroll in a runner's training program, so I did. (Sad thing is, both of them had to drop out due to health issues. ;-( So for the past 7 weeks, I've been working up to longer distances and faster times. It hurts. It's hard. I LOVE IT!

Today, for the first time, I ran 3 1/2 miles non-stop in 38 minutes. Nothing record-breaking, but decent. What did I learn from this?

The first mile is the hardest. I feel like my knees are going to shatter every time I step. My lungs keep threatening to burst, my eyes sting from the sweat, and sometimes my feet or legs try to cramp up. But I keep going. The second mile my body quits hurting and I can feel the tension rolling off of me (or is that sweat?) Either way, I feel strong, confident, and able to continue. So I try three. At three, I'm starting to tire so I really have to work on picking up my toes and heading forward, not leaning back. It's a contest between my mind and my body...which will give out first? When the muscles in my legs start tightening like a rattler around a rabbit, that's when I pick a spot and quit. I'm done.

In relation to writing, I have to start to get anywhere. Simple concept, hard to do sometimes. It's that first paragraph or first page or first chapter that's daunting, but once I'm past that, I can feel the flow of the writing pouring through my fingers. There is a point, though, when my concentration wanes and I have to make a decision: am I being lazy or am I really tired enough that I need to quit? So at that point I need to make a goal, write to that point, summarize what comes next, then go to bed. Start again in the morning.

(yawn) So I guess if I'm continuing the writing metaphor, this blog entry was my warm up. Here's to the first mile tonight! ;-)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Conference Notes-"Reading from the Slush Pile" with Kristin Nelson

This session was by far one of my favorite and the one I learned the most from. The idea was, the agent (Kristin Nelson) read silently while a volunteer reader read aloud the beginning of people's stories. Kristin stopped the reader when something in the manuscript threw up a "red flag" i.e. when she would stop reading as an agent and send a rejection letter. Then she explained why.

This is a painful experience for many because when your work is read aloud and critiqued, sometimes it hurts. Kristin was very tactful about her issues with the pieces, but she was also honest.

She began by assuring everyone that "where you are today isn't where you'll be in six months or 10 years." She wanted to make sure everyone continued to write and didn't quit because of something she said in the workshop.

Only one of the dozen or so stores she read got past the first page. She didn't read mine. (Rats!) Below are some of the issues that came up:

     -setup feels like a short story rather than a novel (when you write in the wrong style for the media you choose, it's gonna feel "off")
     -loose on setting details (when the reader can't picture where/when the characters exist, it's hard to get caught up in the story)
     -panic doesn't stab or prickle, people don't shimmy through doors, people don't growl when they speak, sadness doesn't drag (when using metaphoric language, be careful to make your meaning clear and not just use words/images because they sound cool)
     -if writing from a child's point of view, make sure you use their language and how they perceive the world. Make sure to match the language of the characters to their characters rather than generic phrases.
     -don't be general
     -SHOW. Even worse, don't show it then tell what you just showed (I'm bad about this. School teacher training kicking in.)
     -don't use extra/flowery words and dilute the plot. Get in, make your point, get out.
     -keep the mood, don't switch mid chapter. Choose words that fit your mood.
     -watch metaphors. Sometimes it makes understanding MORE difficult rather than easier.
     -start the story in the right place. This is a hard one, and a topic of many writing books. Basically, for modern audiences, you need to be placed right on top of the action, not 1000 years ago with the history before your story.
     -cut what you don't need. This, too, is a hard one. You may love a word/phrase/paragraph/chapter, but if it doesn't forward the plot or characters, you may need to cut it.
     -prologue is not back story. Back story is world building which should be learned in context. Often the prologue is in a different voice or POV than the story, seems to have nothing to do with the story, and confuses the reader.
     -don't use passive sentences in tense situations.
     -if you create a new metaphor, you need to explain it (in context, obviously, so the reader doesn't get pulled out of the story)
     -you must describe your characters in context. A list pulls the reader away from/out of the story.
     -to sell your characters, you have to instantly place the reader into the context. Don't put a lot of world building in at the beginning otherwise the characters get lost.
     -setting must make physical sense. Is the bedroom going to open up onto the porch? (maybe...) Is the kitchen in the basement? (possibly, but why?)
     -watch the length of description on your action scenes. Action is great, but too much description can be confusing
     -in general, keep the same POV in a section/chapter.
     -explanations in text that are SOLELY FOR THE PURPOSE OF INFORMING THE READER are sloppy writing. You must work explanations into the story so it's normal for the characters to talk/act this way.

I took these hints and combed through the first three chapters of my novel. Pulled out a few hairballs, a fingernail clipping, and a bunch of lint. Eww! Hopefully, with that last bit of spring cleaning, I've found myself representation. We'll see!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Title...Negative, Much!

Several people have commented about the negativity of my title. I can understand if you see it that way, but my perspective is the reality of publishing requirements, not negativity. The reality is, anyone can write words on a page. To take those words and re-arrange, cut, paste, and re-imagine them into a better form takes persistence, intelligence, and sometimes a hack-and-burn attitude about anything superfluous to the plot/characters/setting/marketability of your piece. THAT's why revision is cold, because sometimes your "best" stuff ends up on the virtual cutting room floor.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Conference Notes-"Jump Starting Your Short Story" part ii

Now that I don't have to worry about making the deadline to submit my 3 chapters (simply worry about the rejection I'll receive in a month or so), I can go back to my conference notes and see if I can glean any more wisdom.

The second half of Elaine Viets' presentation was mostly how to get mystery or thriller stories/books published, but her ideas apply to most genres. Just because I prefer to write sci/fi and fantasy doesn't mean I won't occasionally step out of my comfort zone and try something else for a change, either.

Her suggestions for getting short fiction published:
     -e-zines (their submission guidelines are different but just as stringent as print media, so be careful)
     -small print press (usually genre specific)
     -Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock magazines (mystery/thriller specific)
     -Crime Wave (again, mystery/thriller non-fiction)
     -start at the top (choose the most prestigious magazines/publishers first, get rejected a lot, then go to the smaller presses. Who knows, you might get published nationally, but you won't know if you don't submit!)

Elaine suggested if you ever get so angry at someone you want to kill them, do so in a novel. Apparently, she has done that quite a few times. She says it's a great way to save on therapy! ;-)

Most agents/publishers for short stories are looking for:
     -an opening that grabs you
     -a twist at the end

What kills your submission?
     -old ideas
     -being unprofessional
     -not reading the publication
     -not following the guidelines

Enter contests!

One of the best suggestions for me was the idea of using short stories to explore characters in your novels. I've done that a bit in my head and with notes in a notebook, but not formally on the computer. I need to do this to flesh out some of my characters.

Good even'

Submission Away!

I just sent the first three chapters of my novel to the agent I met at the Missouri Writers' Guild conference. Upon further study of the books she's represented, I really don't think she'll choose mine. Her clients all have romance as a significant part in their plots, whereas mine as a tiny bit. Who knows. Maybe she'll be so impressed with the writing she'll take me anyway. ;-)

Now for the waiting...check phone. No, she hasn't called yet. Check e-mail. Nope, no e-mail. Facebook? No? How long does it take to read 24 pages? (*vbg!*) It seems my life is a lot of waiting lately.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

If my head weren't attached...

I left my notebook (with all my conference notes) and the current story I'm revising (to submit for query by Saturday) at work. I was so anxious to leave and go running, I didn't think to check the other bag. Oh, well. It'll be there tomorrow. I can still do revisions with the copies I have at home. I'm too tired from running 3 miles in the heat (okay, hot for ME, but not really hot yet. I'm working on it!)

Currently I'm using several of Kristin Nelson's ideas to polish my first three chapters of my novel. The biggest problem I see is I often give information for the sake of the readers rather than in context. This is a HARD change for me to make, since writing fantasy necessitates world building which requires the writer to explain to the reader what is going on and why things are different. But as I've said, revision isn't easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Conference Notes-Jump Starting Your Short Story part I

Elaine Viets is an hysterical speaker! If you have an opportunity to hear her, please try to make it. She has a very dry sense of humor and an awesome sense of timing.

The first part of her breakout session was on how to diagnose problems with your short stories that don't seem to be going anywhere and how to fix those problems.

     -Think small and twisted. That gives the reader something unexpected to look forward to.
     -Consider that you may be trying to put too much information in (it's a short story, not a novel).
     -Usually, for a short story, you want no more than 4 main characters. If you have too many, you can combine roles or often just cut out one or two.
     -Read your story aloud.
     -Read good short stories.
     -Write a one sentence plot summary then try to keep your story on that line of thinking.
     -Start quick, finish quick
     -Finish with a twist (personal preference here. Some people don't like twists at the end)
     -Think about something you KNOW well and write about that or include that in your story.

The second part of her session was on how to get published. I'm mentally burnt out right now, so I'll post the rest tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Conference Notes-Periodicals Panel

This panel was composed of various editors of on-line, children's, and traditional periodical media. Although this isn't my first interest, I'm considering trying some free-lance opportunities to make a little money and get some experience under my belt. The following are some of my notes from the session:

Good qualities of freelance writers?
     -passionate about their topic
     -has an eye for detail
     -can spin a good tale (fiction)
     -stay within the word count
     -**make deadlines**
     -accurate query letter (query honestly reflects the focus of the work)
     -good communication/polite/thoughtful
     -solid, concise query
     -ability to write to fit the periodical (have read the media and are familiar with what is usually published, what has been published, etc.)
     -someone who doesn't argue with the editor/agent when turned down

The difference between print and on-line media?
     -print is somewhat slower in production
     -print can have more white space/margins
     -on-line is faster and more up-to-date

Don't query, "I have 3 ideas, pick one!" This means you are indecisive. Query the one you think is best, and if that doesn't work, do the other two one at a time.

Query look-fors:
     -CHECK THE GUIDELINES, because every media/company has different requirements
     -should be 3 basic paragraphs-hook, what it's about, & bio/credits
     -know what type(s) of articles each media publishes
     -include part of the lead (non-fiction)
     -explain where you see yourself/your article fitting in to their media
     -NOT TOO LONG, a short page is enough.

Platform/presence: how important is that in periodical publishing?
     -If you want to build a following, use your periodical publications to advertise your e-presence (Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc.)

Enter contests. They make you a better writer, keeps you writing, and makes you write for a purpose.

Look for grants to help keep you afloat until you make your "big break", but don't quit your day job. ;-)

Tomorrow I'll review my notes on the session: Signing with a Literary Agent: Facts and Myths by Sandra Carrington-Smith

Monday, April 11, 2011

Conference notes-Agents/Editor's Panel

Although some people thought this session was a little harsh, I enjoyed it. It was realistic, which is what I like to hear. I don't pay people to lie to me and say everything I write is going to get published. So here are some tidbits I thought were interesting/helpful:

-Make sure to do the research and put the agent's name (spelled correctly) on your query letter. Not doing so is a sure way to get your manuscript rejected.

-A writer has to realize that a work has to serve two distinct (and sometimes conflicting) purposes. One, it has to be good, two it has to be marketable. Agents help you with both, but its really your job to take care of 99% of the good writing part, plus listen to the advice of the agent who knows the marketing side.

-To pitch a novel to an agent, summarize the story arc, main characters, main relationships, and how it ends. Leave time for the agent to ask questions. This is harder than it sounds!

-Social networks (Facebook, blogs, Twitter, etc.) are the lifeblood of current authors. Use them but don't let them become time wasters.

-Read the blogs of agents you want to sell to. That will give you insight not only into if their personality is a match for yours, but if your writing style fits with what they're looking for.

-Don't use passive words (got, have, went, etc.)

-Yes, you may send queries to more than one agent at a time, but make them unique (don't carbon copy to several different people). Also, make sure to look at the guidelines for each. They may be slightly different.

-A query for fiction needs to be regarding a finished work, and one that has been edited by people other than you. Non-fiction you usually query an idea rather than a finished product.

-The first 30-40 pages of your manuscript should introduce your characters, your world, and include the inciting incident (that happening that causes everything else to occur). Query letters should be built around this scene/part of the book.

-Books that go over the "standard" word count are harder to publish, especially for 1st timers. Often there's a lot of fluff that can be cut.

-Less than 1% of authors that submit queries to agencies get represented by that agency. Even less than that are published. Eek!

It's a tough publishing world out there, especially since the digital age is upon us. As Colin Powell says, "There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, learning from failure."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

But Writing Doesn't Keep you Warm and Cozy, Either ;-)

I just came back from the Missouri Writer's Guild conference in St. Louis, Missouri, and boy am I stoked! I've been writing for years, going to school for years, hanging out with writers for years, but have never felt so positive and full of ideas. That's not to say that there won't be hurdles to building my career as a writer, but I'm finally ready to do the work necessary to get there.

So what did I learn?

Revision often isn't pleasant, and therefore the title of my blog. You may have a passage or character or chapter you love but it doesn't fit into the grand scheme of things. Therefore, with a cold heart, you must "kill your babies." However, if you have good peer editors, good agents, and good editors, they can help you make the process as easy as possible. Think ripping the band aid off the elbow. Ouch, but must be done!

And, of course, I've always known writing isn't going to be my multi-million dollar cash cow. If I do end up being successful, I'll only make a few extra bucks here and there. Perhaps, after 20 years of plugging away I'll have enough of a following to live off the royalties, but I'm not going to live in the future.

Toward that end of being successful, I've taken the first steps to acquiring an agent. At the conference I presented a successful pitch, she asked me to send the first 30 pages, and I'll do that later this week. I doubt I'll get an agent first try, but who knows. She may be looking for what I have to offer!

My plan for this blog is to use it to remind myself of what I learned at the conference, what I'm learning as I write, and to post updates on my progress in the career.

Akan guide you all.