Burning Bridges Clouds Your Path

The smoke from the fire you create with your words will always cloud your future. One way or another. And who wants to walk through the world blind, choking on smoke?

I recently read a blog post from a literary agent (whom I respect and follow regularly) that disturbed me.

He had attended a few conferences where he’d overheard several writers bash him and/or his agency in one way or another. Combined with a few other factors, he decided to close his agency to new submissions until further notice.

I think this a bit of an overreaction, but at the very least extremely disappointing.

Granted, publishing is subjective and everyone has his/her opinion. Not everyone is bound to agree all the time. It’s just the nature of the business. Heck, that’s human nature.

But even if you have a disagreement with an agent or editor, you at least need to be civil in parting ways and (more importantly) how you carry yourself in the future. This includes the comments you make about someone to others. AKA- gossip. (It’s so high school, and even when I was in high school, I hated gossip. So adults should definitely not partake.)

Remember the phrase:

“Be mindful of the toes you step on today, for they may be attached to the ass you must kiss tomorrow.”

Trust me- this will happen. It may take a week, a year, or ten years. But it will eventually happen. Be honest with yourself: don’t you remember something hateful someone said to you when you were in high school? Middle school? College? Your first internship? And don’t you agree the next time you see them you’d have those comments in the back of your mind?

If you’re in complete denial with the statements above, at the very least you should be mindful of the golden rule you should have learned in kindergarten:

“Treat others the way you would like to be treated.”

I remember the first Author Workshop I attended several years ago where the author spent the first half-hour bashing her former publisher, cover artist, editor, and anyone under the sun having anything to do with her experience. And my take away from that workshop: I won’t be buying any of her books.

Not because she turned me off to the publisher, but her bashing gave me a horrible impression of her. I refused to support someone who was so negative and had no care with the words she chose.

These are just my thoughts on how you create relationships, professional or personal. Granted, ‘keeping silent when you have nothing nice to say’ is easier said than done.  But I always remember that I don’t want to have smoke covering my path going forward.

12 Steps for Writers Anonymous

Hi, my name is Susie, and I’m a writer.

It’s been 3 hours since I’ve written anything. And a good 3 weeks since I’ve written fiction. I know I’m breaking the rules by writing this very post.

I admit I will always be addicted to writing and feel a pull inside my soul to put a pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. But I need to be constructive, productive, relative, and any other ‘–ive’ that’s necessary to make my life- and writing- manageable.

I trust in a higher power, greater than myself, to restore my sanity after moments of writing and the lunacy that it sometimes ensues. I willingly turn my will, life, and pen over to the care of that higher power. The all-knowing muse that has my fingers continue to race over the keyboard.

I need to bring closure to my writing life by apologizing to any critiquers, editors, and agents, whom I may have snapped at for rejections or poor reviews. It came from an ignorant and bad place inside me, that I’m constantly striving to improve. And I’m sorry they were the targets of my negative energies.

I need to thank those who’ve supported me and believed I could be better, improve, and build upon my skills with a positive focus. Encouragement is essential, and I’m grateful for them.

I’m grateful for the sun, the moon, the air, light, food, chocolate, and a working charge in my laptop. But more importantly I’m grateful for my husband, my son, my parents, my brothers, my friends, my peers, my neighbors, and anyone else that has put up with my crazy antics and habits as a writer. Including writing snaps at midnight and the light that keeps others up, putting lunch or dinner on the table an hour late, or emotional breakdowns when scenes aren’t going right and I have to backtrack. I know I look like a toddler throwing a tantrum during those times, and I’m grateful they haven’t shoved me in a corner for a time-out. I’m grateful my time-outs involve a Diet Coke and a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup.

Sorry, Caden.

I apologize for the days I haven’t bothered to change out of my PJ’s and forget I’m not wearing a bra under my t-shirt and haven’t bothered to comb my hair for my trek to the mailbox, and thereby scare the neighborhood children playing in the street.

I’ve always been ready for the higher power to remove the bad habits I employ as a writer. I’m ready for Him to remove all adverbs from my vocabulary, instill an enduring sense of ‘show, don’t tell’ in my imagination, and remove a constant need for coffee in my nervous system. I ask the higher power to remove these short comings, and just allow my first sale to happen with the next ring of my iPhone. And let that sale be a six-digit paycheck, so I no longer have to suffer through the pains of my shortcomings.

I will continue to identify when I’m wrong, when my writing isn’t sufficient or entertaining enough, and believe that those I’ve hurt will carry on believing in me, and read my work. More importantly, I will continue to acknowledge when an editor or agent just doesn’t get my work, and the loss of a sale is on their shoulders, not mine. I will continue to try and reach the same level as James Patterson, Stephanie Meyer, and even JK Rowling, even though I know my writing has the potential to be better. And I’ll continue to pray for the higher power’s will and knowledge to teleport into my fingers and write the international bestseller that will put my addiction in a place where it is no longer insanity, but ingenious.

For the world will be a better place when I acknowledge my weakness, and force others to read it.

Incomplete Characters and Bad License Photo

I recently had to renew my driver’s license, and even worse had to do it in person. Despite my attempts to renew online, Texas DPS system screwed up and I had to come in and fight the long line and seedy waiting area. Over two hours later, I had my new license paperwork, along with a horrible new photo to grace the plastic card.

It’s probably one of the worst photos I’ve ever taken. Not quite as bad as the photo of my eyebrow bashed in with a baseball bat, swollen and stitched to the nines. But pretty close. Clearly in the middle of a blink, the lovely/overworked/cynical/ humorous woman at the DPS counter wouldn’t let me take another one. So now for the next ten years, I must live with a mutant zombie grimacing on the front of my license.

I feel that way about incomplete characters in my manuscripts. Or at least, if I can’t see my characters in my head, they come off as incomplete and merely two-dimensional. So it’s like writing the rest of your manuscript (driving down the road) with a hideous license. Good Lord, let’s hope writers don’t have to apply for licenses just to be writers.  Talk about a country that loves regulations!

That’s why character sketches are so important to me now. Before, I didn’t really give them more than a page or two of thought. But then my wonderful critique partner showed me what she uses, and I searched for several others, and realized I was hardly scratching the surface. I wasn’t even scratching the polish coat.

Here is a list of several sites I found with great tools to help build characters:

http://thescriptlab.com/screenwriting/character/creating-characters/23-character-questionnaire

http://www.writingclasses.com/InformationPages/index.php/PageID/106

http://www.fictionfactor.com/characters.html

You can also find several other helpful tools if you become a member of Greater Ft Worth Writers, where we have a whole bunch of downloads for our members on our website.

All of these have helped me get to know my next characters better, and amazingly found plotting even easier now that I could see them so clearly.

If only Texas DPS would let me retake my stupid drivers license photo. I’d feel even better about carrying around something that’s supposed to represent me, instead of a two-dimensional half-creature. Or maybe I can get them to have me look like Katherine Heigl or Reese Witherspoon.

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!

Can’t Wait to Plot

So, I’ve only gone through the first round of revisions on my manuscript and have sent it out to my critique group. And I’m not stopping there.

I’ve already started plotting and creating the character sketches for the next book that’s twirling around in my head.

Some could call me a glutton for punishment, since I have at least 2 more rounds of revisions on this thing. But I’d rather get these ideas on paper than let them continue to torment me in my head. I’ve had this story idea for a little over a year, but didn’t have enough of a concrete plan to bash it out on paper.

But this time around, I’m paying more attention to the character development than before. Because in this particular story, their personalities are going to be a lot more center-stage. So for the first time in my life, I’m focusing on the characters first, and not the plot.

Even searching several screenshots of people online (Yahoo Images) to see if I can find anyone that closely resembles the image I have in my brain of my characters. I can’t draw for crap, so literally sketching them isn’t gonna work. I’m much more visual.

But I can sketch the rest of them on paper. Their goals, motivations, conflicts (GMC to any of you writers out there). What makes them tick, sing, cringe, and I can find all their buttons (and push them relentlessly!)

A writer friend of mine gave me what she uses for Character ‘Interviews,’ where she gets to know them more by playing the role of a therapist while her MC’s sit on a couch and dish out their lives and inner most thoughts. Creative!

If you peruse around on the web, you’ll find a whole bunch of different resources to help you create your characters. Character Development, character sketches, character questions… type in anything for ‘character’ and you’ll find umpteen-million.

The one I’ve used before I found here.

But clearly that’s not the only thing I’m going to use to know every inch and cranny of my characters for this iota of an idea. But you need to start somewhere.

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?

Glass Slippers Waiting for RWA Conference

Thousands of writers, editors, agents, wanna be authors, and throngs more are headed to NYC today for the SuperBowl of the romance writing world: RWA Conference. (Romance Writers of America). And I’m turning an unusual shade of green that I don’t see on my own skin very often. When I’d rather be wearing a pair of glass slippers to such an important event in living the dream.

I’m a member of RWA. A newbie. First year. And I desperately wanted to go to this conference. Not just because I had a completed manuscript that I wanted to pitch, but these conferences are crown jewels for insights into the publishing world. Awards for the best published and unpublished works, workshops on improving your craft, Q&A sessions with editors and agents who provide invaluable tidbits into what they’re looking for/things they hate/quirks, and the main chance of the year to pow wow with the industry’s most successful and experienced gurus. Particularly since the publishing industry is changing so much with the increasing popularity of e-books, self-publishing, and all the controversy along with it. And I’d desperately want  a chance to wear my glass slippers (they’re blue, just for me!)

But as a fairly new writer living on one income, the expense was too much for my tightened financial belt. With the registration fees, flight, hotel, food, cabs, and inevitable souvenirs and gifts for my friends and families back home, I knew I couldn’t afford it. Cinderella must wait… again.

So now, as I anxiously twiddle my toes waiting for the 2012 conference in California, I’m watching the Twitter feed of everyone in NYC so I can live vicariously through the little blue bird on Twitter. The conference moves from city to city every year, and I’ll have to wait until 2014 until it comes even remotely close to home (2014 will be in San Antonio, TX). Waiting for the dream is so hard.

All I can do is keep dreaming, writing, researching, learning, hoarding self-help books, and reading other authors I admire. And keep my glass slippers ready.

How about you? Are you going to RWA Conference this year, or are you like me and waiting for the next one? Or are you rolling at your eyes at my envious Cinderella blog post?

I Win the Fights in my WIP

I don’t get to win too many arguments in my life. Mainly because I get too tongue-tied or flabbergasted to respond, until several hours or even days after the argument, I think of the perfect comeback or stinger, and by then of course it’s too late. I’ve already lost. Easy to say I’m not a confrontational person.

Except for writing. I just finished a scene in my WIP where my heroine and hero have a fight (not with fists, although she has the urge to slap him), but with words. I still suffer from the same deficiency and have trouble creating comebacks on the spot, but that’s what’s great about writing. I can think of the perfect quip and insert it in the middle of the argument later. Doesn’t matter how much time has passed. It still flows, and either way I WIN THE ARGUMENT! 😉

It’s interesting to note that the fight scene between my main characters flowed from my mind more easily than other scenes. I wonder if it’s the same with other authors. The most tense scenes in novels are often the easiest to write (or the scenes authors already have visualized before the rest of the book is plotted. It is said that JK Rowling had the last scene between Harry Potter and Voldermort completed before she even started the series). I write out the harsh words as I feel them come to me, and if I think of something later that’s better, more damaging to their self-confidence, or more of a knife-in-the-gut, I can amend it.

Writing has helped me explore my confrontational side, which I believed was non-existent before I started. I’m not saying I’m more confrontational in real-life now that I’ve started writing, but it’s helped me delve into a side I didn’t know I had. And I’m glad I’m able to put that side of me into a character that’s on paper, that way none of the evidence leads back to me and the only people who are hurt are entirely fictional. 😉

I must say, its nice to win an argument every now and then.