Cautiously Optimistic Happy Dance

 

Time for another happy dance, folks…

Yes, I love Steve Carrell

I need to celebrate the little milestones, although this one isn’t so little.

I received a FULL manuscript request from an editor. And of course, the minute I saw it, I started my own little happy dance around my kitchen island. Then called my hubby, parents, posted on Facebook, and texted a few folks.

I know I got a little ahead of myself. This isn’t a request for representation yet or a publishing contract (if only!). But I’ve only had 1 other full manuscript request in my life, so I have to grin about this!

I entered an online pitch contest, where I had 35 words to entice editors to want more. That’s it. 35 words.  ACK!!

Do you know how hard it is to create an entire book blurb in just 35 words? And not just that, but to make the editor/agent drooling for more. I thought writing a 1 page query was tough.

I submitted the pitch, along with 199 other people, thinking that at best I would get a request for the first chapter or ten pages. But a FULL? Sweetness!!!

Granted, there were at least 20 people who received full manuscript requests, but I’d expect that. Because I read through a lot of the other pitches and they were excellent! Really intriguing stories that had me drooling. Clearly, writing a 35-word blurb was easier for them than for me.

And congrats to all the other folks who received requests, as well. This industry is freakin’ tough and anything like this that gives us opportunities, I’ll rave over.

I’ll let you know if anything comes of this. For now, I’ll do my little happy dance and keep on writing.

 

Beta Reading Challenge

My writers group just started a new program called Beta Readers Round Table

Five of our members submitted their completed manuscripts to be reviewed by Beta Readers (myself included). Each Beta Reader critiques 2 manuscripts based on content (not line editing). Searching for plot holes, characterization errors, point of view switching, change of tenses, the bigger stuff (not grammar, punctuation, etc). And it’s a challenge.

This is what critique groups are for, in my opinion. Our meeting sessions normally focus on 10 pages at a time. The online critique sessions can be anywhere from a chapter to 5-6 chapters long. This is the first time we’re doing entire manuscripts in one swoop. And two manuscripts at that. This seems like a great opportunity to capture big plot holes and voice, flow, all the big stuff all writers want to know about their unfinished babies. A great opportunity, and a big responsibility.

When all of the beta readers are finished critiquing their ‘assignments,’ we’ll get together in a round table forum and go over everyone’s work. I’m sure this session will take well more than an hour, but it should be with gold-level content. Writers are supposed to walk away from the session feeling good about themselves and their stories. And feel like they’ve carried away a massive ruby or emerald in their pocket of exceptional critiques.

How many opportunities do these manuscripts get before a writer submits them to an agent or editor?

I’ve just finished the first of two, and I’m really impressed with the stories our members create. Truly original and completely new perspectives. But at the same time I’m also hesitant to be too critical. I’m not published, yet. I don’t have an agent, and no experience in what editors look for in submissions. But I’m an avid reader. I know what I like to see. I know the difference between ‘telling’ and ‘showing’ and I’m much more entertained by ‘showing.’ I love the emotion in stories. So those are the kinds of things I look for in manuscripts. When I give critiques, I try to give ideas on how to make something better (not just, ‘I don’t like this scene. Not realistic.”) I give a suggestion on how to make it more realistic, or better for the reader.

Don’t close a door for someone without giving a them a window they can open.

I hope the other Beta Readers do the same for my manuscript.

It’s challenging. Seeing a potentially brilliant story with vibrant and genuine characters in its most raw form- I want to help the writer make it better. I don’t want to ruin it with my suggestions that may not be the best ideas. Its challenging trying to help someone. But if it’s the right idea, I’m proud to say I helped make their story better.

Plotting Frenzy Over the Week

I’ve finished plotting my third manuscript over the week. I couldn’t get enough- my brain was flourishing with ideas, even over the hard parts of plotting (like overcoming the climax and how to resolve all the conflicts in the end). It feels fabulous to have these ideas come to a temporary close. I’m sure I looked something like this:

I say temporary close because there could always be tweaks and turns from my outline as I start writing the rough draft. There always are.

No, that's not me. But I write in a notebook like this.

But the best part, my friends:

It’s all on paper!!!

It’s in ink on a physical white sheet, as well as a digital file on my trusty Macbook. I can see it. Touch it. Absorb it on my skin and leave ink marks all over the place. Or maybe not, my husband would be mad with black fingerprints all over the furniture. But it’s not in my head, swirling in a massive cloud, much like the pensieve in the Harry Potter books.

But the characters are alive in my brain, each whispering their dreams, pet peeves, sense of humor, and even what turns them on. (Hey, it’s a romance. I gotta know the juicy details better than anyone).

And it took about a week to put the whole thing down. So cool!

Although don’t get me wrong folks- I’ve had this idea for the third novel in my head for over a year. I have just been more focused on the second novel and finishing the first draft and sending it out for revisions.

But I love being this productive. It’s hard to go to sleep at night because I have so many ideas churning and bursting to get out. I love this part of writing!

Yes, folks, this is how I feel right now!

Critique Groups are Supposed to Help, Not Hurt

I recently read another author’s blog that made me think about critique groups.

First of all, I love my writers group. And I’m not just saying that because I’m the President. My writers group and the fabulous other writers who’ve critiqued my work have been one of the best assets of my entire experience.

But the author’s blog I read claimed that her writers group ‘critiqued the voice out of her novel.’ I can only imagine session after session of sitting with her critique members and them offering suggestions of how to improve her language, grammar, and characterization efforts backfired. So when she finally read the ‘revised’ version of her manuscript, she couldn’t even recognize it as her own. Maybe it felt flat to her because she didn’t recognize her words. But her voice was gone.

How frustrating!

But then I thought about it further. She had the right to refuse those suggestions. They were just there to help, not to be vicious and purposely make her spicy work become vanilla. Why didn’t she speak up for her own writing? Why did she cave?

Perhaps she thought the other members were more experienced than she. Therefore, her opinions (while mattered) weren’t as crucial as the others.

Perhaps she believed her fellow writers were experts in the genre she wrote. Or if not experts, at least liked the genre and had read a lot of books to be knowledgeable of it.

Very possible. Even plausible.

But bottom line, its her writing. At some point in every writer’s career, they will receive critiques and ‘friendly suggestions’ from friends, other writers, editors, and agents that may not be in the best interest of the story.  I’ve had several. But I at least recognize it’s meant to help. Everyone’s critique is his or her own opinion. It’s up to the writer to determine what they’re comfortable with accepting. To determine how open minded they want to be. To find out what kind of suggestions they are getting and how credible the sources are.

I know that’s a tremendous hodge-podge of what-ifs, and can scare the crap out of any aspiring author. It still scares me from time to time.

I think it all comes down to 3 things.

First, the writers group you belong to. What kind of people are involved? Are you comfortable reading in front of them and sharing your thoughts? Are they supportive, open, and constructive? Do you feel comfortable not accepting a crit?

Second, how open-minded are you? Meaning, do you defend every tiny detail of your manuscript when someone tries to make a suggestion on a character, setting, or plot line? Or do you cave at every suggestion without getting second opinions or really thinking it through?

Lastly, and most importantly, you gotta love to keep writing. Even after all the crits, suggestions, revisions, rewrites, and gut wrenching rejections from agents or editors (if you’ve submitted), you have to love the story. The characters. Everything about it. Because if you don’t, there’s no way anyone else will. You are your story’s greatest fan and biggest cheerleader. If you don’t love it, go back and ask yourself why. Don’t let someone else talk you out of your own voice.

All that being said, I feel very lucky. I’ve found a writers group I’m comfortable with.  They’ve made fabulous suggestions for me that I’ve loved and have only made my writing stronger. But I also don’t feel threatened when I don’t take one of their suggestions. If you don’t have the same feeling about your ‘helpers,’ find new ones. Stand up for your voice.

 

Cartwheels over Finished Rough Draft

Cartwheels, electric slide, general happy dance inspired by Steve Carrell, once again.

I finished my rough draft on Friday this week. While my husband and son went to sleep early, I pounded at the keyboard for another 3 hours to finish it. I had to keep up the roll I was on earlier in the week and it paid off. (I wish literally, but for now just figuratively). Don’t ask me how long it took me to complete the first draft. It’s embarrassing. But that doesn’t matter. What counts is that I finished it.

I’m under no illusions that this is ready to submit. Far from it. I have an ungodly amount of revisions to complete that I kept track of during the first crash course, and obviously I have to pass it through my writers group, trusty critique partner Kim, and a few others. Then revise. Then do it all over again. Then revise. And all over again once more. Then maybe… maybe,  I’ll be ready to submit to agencies again in January. That’s my goal, anyway.

And hopefully avoid the pesky slushpile. 

 

 

 

So for now, as the weekend winds down and I gear up for my writers meeting later today, I shall do the happy dance.

Commence Celebrate music…

“Ce-le-brate good times, come on! Duh, nuh-nuh-nuh, nuh, nuh-nuh-nuh, Weehoo!”

Doesn’t that just make you smile?

Journey vs. Destination… Which Are You?

Steep winding road. The road is narrow and cli...

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I’ve realized there are two kinds of people in this world: those in it for the journey, and those in it for the destination. I know, you hear it a lot, but have you actually realized which of these YOU are?

If you’re more the ‘destination’ oriented person, you probably shouldn’t become a writer. I’ve discovered that writing is about evolving. Going through scenes like phases in adolescence constantly changing, highly emotional, combative, and potentially scar-inducing. An ugly roller coaster. But writing provides moments of enlightenment that are supposed to make you better, broaden your imagination and strengthen your skills. And as long as you value the lessons you learn along the tumultuous path of writing, and not really care whether or not you get published, then you’ll be successful.

But if you think being published is the only way you’ll be successful, i.e Destination driven, you may end up disastrously depressed. Or at the very least disappointed and disgruntled. Almost feel like you’ve been ripped off.

And I realized something else, too. I’ve gone through most of my life as a Destination Oriented person. Making the class, making the grade, making the degree, making the meet, earning certain scores/awards, making quotas, milestones, etc, on and on, so on and so forth. There’s always been a mile marker to reach or goal line at the end of the field. (Metaphorically, obviously I never played football). And with every ‘destination’ reached, I’ve felt accomplished and that my life has been meaningful.

I’ve always enjoyed writing through school years and into adulthood. But this last year has been primarily focused on writing (writing as my profession, that is, although I’ve never earned a dime from it). Hence, I learn that writing is definitely Journey oriented. To which they measure success on an entirely different stick. So when I set goals for myself when I first started this past year and having to reach certain milestones, and thereby NOT reaching them, I feel like a failure. I start to doubt myself, call myself a horrible writer, not worth a lick, and blah blah blah. (I’ve always been my own worst critic.) I don’t like to be a glutton for punishment. But I don’t like thinking that I’m not good at something. I don’t have to be great, I don’t have to be the best, but I at least want to feel that I’m GOOD at something.

Why else would I bother my time with something? You want to spend your life, your precious time (that you don’t have much of on this Earth) doing something meaningful, valuable, and productive? So when I don’t reach my goals, or am seriously delayed in crossing a milestone, there’s an itch in the back of my mind that makes me think is this right for me? Am I failing those I love who’ve supported me in this endeavor?

And then I step out of my ridiculous ‘destination’ shoes and BACK UP. I go to the people I love, the ones I respect, and they force me to ask the RIGHT questions.

Do I love to write?…………….. Hell yes.

Have I learned something? ………… Hell yes.

Do I want to continue?…………. Well, yeah.

Will I disappoint anyone by stopping?….. No.

Will I disappoint anyone by writing?….. No. (At least, not the ones I love.)

And my answer was blatantly obvious. I haven’t failed at anything. And because I love to write, and constantly try to make myself better, I can call myself a writer. And so I put on my ‘Journey’ shoes.

People love to call themselves ‘Journey’ people when its crystal blue skies and beautiful green countrysides. But change to ‘Destination’ people when they run into dark and winding roads, so they can keep hope that there’s something meaningful at the end of the tunnel. Either way, you have to wear the right shoes.

And what do ya know, you can be both a journey and destination person at the same time. It’s chaotic at times, painful even, but its doable. Even enjoyable. But only by those who can pull off the look. Can you?

Happy Memorial Day everyone, and keep writing forward!

Stay Motivated

With the holidays in full swing (Christmas just a week away) creating a barrage of distractions, travel arrangements right around the corner, and the stagnant responses from agencies still pending, its hard to stay motivated to keep writing every day.  On the half-finished manuscript file sitting on my desktop that stares at me every day screaming, “Open the file… write more… finish me!”

As well as the third manuscript I’m still brainstorming and writing notes about every week into a battered journal.  Fine, if I’m stuck on the incomplete manuscript and I’m blocked on ideas for my next one, what’s an aspiring author to do?

Name it- the distractions are endless.  Eat, clean, run errands- all in between chasing after my two-year-old around the house.  And when he naps, maybe I can get some writing done.  Perhaps on the blog!!! 🙂  Yes- there’s the answer for motivation!

Get things off my mind, loosen my fingers on the keyboard- which will all hopefully clear the way for motivation to finish something!

What about you, readers?  What distractions do you feel yourself being pulled to, instead of writing your manuscripts or submitting to agents/publishers?  At least I know I’m not alone in this condition.

Day in the Life of an Aspiring Author

Querying and submitting to agents is a long, arduous, and nerve-wracking process.  I finished my first manuscript (contemporary romantic suspense) a few months ago after years of writing, and another year of revising, editing, cutting, splicing, and crying.  (Emotions run rampant around these pieces of my soul on paper).

Then I started the massive undertaking of finding a literary agent.  I’ve read so many self-help books and tips on publishing that I believe I have the basics down.  Now its down to the nitty-gritty in getting my query letter noticed among the thousand of queries agents read every day.

Most agents aren’t looking for new authors to sign right now.  “Our agency is currently occupied by catering to our current list of clients.  Please check back with us next year.”  I’ve read this tag line on so many agency websites.

For those agents who are considering signing new talent, the competition is brutal!

I’ve sent out 45 queries over the last several months, and have received back 15 rejections.  However, I did receive one agent’s interest, and he asked for my first 3 chapters.  I was physched! Made my Thanksgiving complete!  After a month, I received a devastating blow- another rejection from my most promising prospect.

Granted, this industry requires an extremely thick layer of skin.  But that was hard to swallow.  I appreciated that he responded with a few tidbits as to why he passed on my baby- excuse me, manuscript.  I’ll try to learn from them.  But really the only way I can keep moving forward is just to keep writing.  Not only that, but keep writing what I love.

I’m looking forward to my first Writer’s Conference in February.  I hear that is an excellent way to learn, network, and potentially find at least an intro to an agent.  Its intimidating, but I’m anxious for it.

Needless to say, I also entered a bajillion contests over the last few months as well.  I’m waiting to hear back from several.  Including 1 contest in which I won a consolation prize of a critique of my first chapter.  That was back in October and I’m still waiting.  But that’s normal for this industry.

Pain, anguish, and infinite waiting is normal for this industry.