Tag Archive: writer



9355090806_80b6faabc7_cIt’s almost that time of year again.

As of this post, Halloween is one week away and a scant twenty-four hours later November descends upon us.

And the madness begins.

“So it begins,” some of you murmur, nodding your heads. You refer to the frantic, cinnamon-infused, fifty-five day explosion known as the Holidays. However, I speak of the much briefer (though no less frantic) span of days known as NaNoWriMo. In English, that translates to National Novel Writing Month. Non-writers call it November.

You may be vaguely aware of NaNoWriMo. You’ve seen your writer friends post about it on Twitter, tumblr, and Facebook. You heard them crying about it last. But for those of you going, “Margaret, I have no idea what you’re talking about”, I will explain:

On November 1st  many ambitious writers commit to writing a 50,000 novel by November 30th. How long is a 50,000 word novel, you ask. Think The Great Gatsby. NaNoWriMo challenges a writer to slam down 1,667 words every day for a month. Do you remember college? And term papers? That’s about how long each day’s work needs to be, or you end up playing catch-up. Some writers find that easy, others don’t. Either way, it’s stressful and more than a few writers spend November ripping their hair out. That’s totally normal (and hyperbolic, if your writer starts ripping their hair out, please intervene).

Now that we’re all on the same page, here are some ways that you—the ever supportive non-writer—can help:

  1. Understand– Writing over a thousand words a day (or several thousand every few days if that’s how your writer works) takes a lot of time. If you know someone who is attempting NaNoWriMo, they will be writing at every opportunity. Writing cuts away from the time your writer has for food, sleep, work, friends, family, personal hygeine, and any other diversions that life offers. Be aware of that. Please understand when they’re more forgetful or messier or less emotionally stable than usual. Know that it’s only for 30 days. Appreciate every moment they give you for the sacrifice it is.
  2. Help them focus– It’s the little things that eat away at writing time. After all, the laundry still needs to be done and you don’t stop loving your kids just because you’re writing a novel. The writer’s brain is easily distracted by all the things we SHOULD be doing, the things that NEED doing. Right now. If you live with a writer, even the smallest gestures help. Like doing the dishes or the laundry or giving them an hour without the kids or making sure they don’t have to worry about dinner on Thursdays.
  3. Encourage them– Writing can often feel like a waste of time—especially for your writer. It feels awkward to call it a job when you’re not getting paid, but you can’t get published (and make money) if you have no book. Remind your writer that it’s not a waste. Cheer them on. Whether or not a NaNo novel gets published isn’t the point. The point is finished the dumb thing.
  4. Treat it seriously– If your writer commits to NaNoWriMo this November, please don’t trivialize that. Under any circumstances, writing to fifty thousand words is a huge undertaking…and a HUGE achievement. Setting out to write that many words in just thirty days straddles completely crazy and definitely daunting. Writers have it hard enough finding time to write, please don’t make it harder by scoffing or dismissing our writing as a hobby. Respect the time your brave writer sets aside for NaNo. Respect their efforts. And do what you can to help them stick to that goal.
  5. Bribe them– If you’re so inclined and in the position to reward your writer for reaching fifty thousand words, go for it. Give them that extra incentive to push towards the goal. You don’t need to be extravagant (although, if you anyone wants to reward me with a trip to see Aladdin on Broadway, I won’t say no). It could be simple: a movie night with their favorite movie, taking them to dinner or ice cream, or promising to buy that book they’ve been ogling on Amazon for weeks.

Writers participate in NaNoWriMo for many reasons. Some writers use it to jump into their newest (or their first) novel. Other writers participate for the comradery. Or a change of pace. Every writer will give you a different answer. Every writer is different, but I’ll stress again, effort is the important thing about NaNo. If that idea stays in your writer’s head, it never gets published. By encouraging your writer (this holds true all year long), you are helping them get one step closer to a finished first draft and a finished first draft is one step closer to a published novel (though it might not be that particular novel).

Question of the week:

How do you encourage your writer? (Writers: How do your family/friends encourage you?)

Disclaimer: This is in no way aimed at anyone in my immediate circle. You are all wonderfully supportive of my writing. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart. I’m blessed to have each and every one of you supporting me.


Image: diary writing by Fredrik Rubensson, CC BY-SA 2.0

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Disclaimer: This is a writing advice post. I know every writer is different. What works for me may not work for you. Reading writing advice is like buying a pair. The first pair you try might be perfect or you may have to try several before you find the right shoes; until you try on a few pairs, you won’t know. I use the same attitude for writing advice. If it looks like it’s my size, I’ll give it a try. If I like the advice, I use it. If I don’t like the advice, I put it back on the shelf so to speak. If my advice doesn’t resonate or work for you, feel free to put it back on the shelf.

21088225960_7337178c45_b

What working on TQG feels like right now.

And now…

It’s confession time.

I’ve reached a point where my work-in-progress (a.k.a. TQG) feels like a chore more often than not. On a fundamental level, I still want to “finish” this story. I want to get to a point where I can either say, “Hey, maybe I should see if this is something” and start querying agents or say, “I’m proud of all the things I’ve learned, but this isn’t it” and walk away. But whenever I sit down to work on TGQ? I find myself not in the mood. Here we are at the beginning of October, and I haven’t finished a chapter since August. It was Chapter One.

I know the problem: Story edits kick my butt. Want a first draft? Great, give me a few months. You want line edits? I got that. Story edits, though? They trigger my primal urge to over analyze everything, because WHAT IF I GET EVERYTHING SOMETHING WRONG!?

Writing is fun.

Editing is work.

Editing takes more motivation than cleaning my room does. (Two rooms over, my father rolls his eyes.)

So I stall. I hem. I haw. I whine—often quite loudly on social media—about how writing is hard. I get on tumblr and scroll through my dashboard until I’ve seen every post fifteen times.

Meanwhile, my novel collects (figurative) dust on my hard drive.

What have I learned? I am not a “wait for your muse” kind of girl. (Technically, I’ve known this, the past few months have made a fresh impression on me.)

I’m more the “force your muse to catch up” person. Because most of the time, my muse does not feel like writing. She’d rather read a book. Or get on YouTube. Or find something else on Netflix to obsess over. (Really, it’s mostly YouTube.)

I have to try.

I have to pull out my notes, sit down at my computer, and open that Word doc. I have to look at my week and say, “Here’s where I can spend this much time writing and here’s where I can spend that much time writing”. And I have to tell myself to try.

I am loathe to contradict the words of a revered Jedi master, but—all due respect to Yoda—when it comes to me and writing, the word “try” must exist. If I don’t try, I don’t write. But if I do try? Well, I either…

  1. Struggle for a specified amount of time (usually 30-45 minutes), write a sentence or two, and decide that a writing day, today is not.

OR

  1. Struggle for a bit, write a few sentences, make a weird face, rewrite those sentences, nod, write more, nod more, rewrite more and come to the end of my writing time with a page or two done and a pleased look on my face. (Sometimes quickly replaced by a confused look as I realize that it’s past midnight. Whoops!)

Note: This method is most effective when you ignore your muse’s initial temper tantrum and attempt a few sentences.

There are writers that mostly write when they feel like it. And as they’ve published more than a few books, I cannot deny this method works for some people. If it works for you, embrace that.

I am not one of those people.

For me, writing is similar to exercising. I almost never feel like working out, but I read once that even if you don’t want to work out you should do part of your routine. If you’re still struggling after a few minutes, then maybe today isn’t a good day. However, completing part of your workout gives you momentum, increasing the chance you’ll finish. While I will always prefer reading to jogging, 99% of the time I finish feeling accomplished and pleased that I put the effort in.

Don’t feel like this has to be you (because it doesn’t), but if the shoe looks like it will fit why not, well…try?

And with that, it’s time to sign off and go try some more.

Question for the day:

Do you wait for motivation or do you make motivation catch up to you?


 Image: Don’t try this at home by Massmo Relsig, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


2200500024_e93db99b61_mOnce upon a time, I thought the most difficult question you could ask a writer was the infamous “What are you writing?” After all, people don’t want you spill the whole book word-for-word, so you have fit your current obsession into a few sentences (the fewer the better). Cue long, excruciating pause, stuttering, backtracking, and general frustration.

Then a new writer friend asked me this doozy: “Are you a good writer?”

It took me a minute, but I said that yes eventually.

The question still hasn’t let me go though.

Am I a good writer?

If you asked my mother, the answer would be yes.

I’m not as sure. Am I capable of objectively answering that question? I am not a published writer–newsflash, I know–the only person to read my current novel is me. My only feedback is my own judgment. Is it possible for someone to be truly unbiased about their own work? I know I’m not.

But I also dislike the idea that the only writers able to write well are those that hate every word they write. In my mind, being too critical is just as ineffective as not being critical enough .

Isn’t it better to have the ability to recognize the golden nuggets in a current work? To look at a draft and say, “I think I might be on to something here, but that other thing there and all of Chapter 15 need a lot of work”?

That’s the kind of writer that I try to be.

A lot of my current project is kind of…meh, but the more I chip away at it, the more I wash and sift and refine it, the more gold I find. Or at least, I hope it’s gold I’m finding. There are good parts in this draft. There might even be brilliant parts in this draft. Only patience and effort will tell.

What I think matters is that I’m recognizing some problems. I know (and feedback on past projects has shown) that I’m WAY too close to this project to see all the problems, but I don’t think that my novel is perfect.

I don’t think it’s crap either.

I think it could turn into something.

At the end of the day, I’d rather believe in myself.

So I (at the risk of sounding narcissistic) think I’ll stick with my original answer.

Yes, I am a good writer. Or at least, I’m on my way to being one.


Image: Question mark sign by Colin Kinner, CC BY 2.0


I have finally reached that special place in my current work-in-progress that every author just dreams about: it’s time to look for an agent.

Allow me to emphasize the word “look”? I’ve finished my second draft and plan to dig into the thing with my jackhammer and scalpel when all the feedback has come in. If I am relatively pleased with the finished result it will be time to query agents. But that’s still a few months away.

So why am I looking at agents now?

Why not wait until I have completed and polished manuscript (Those are the kind of manuscripts that agents like to see)?

The answer to that question can be summed up with one word: research.

I need to know who I’m querying. Sure, I could just start with the first agent listed on Writer’s Market. But it’s so much more efficient to target queries.

Otherwise, I could send my manuscript to someone who doesn’t even represent young adult fiction. Or worse, someone who doesn’t rep fiction period. I want to respect both my time and any potential agents.

So I need to know all I can about said potential agents. The most consistent complaint I’ve seen agents make is that people submit inappropriate manuscripts—meaning manuscripts that for one reason or another don’t meet submission guidelines (these are important, pay attention to them).

So how do I go from the 85 agents that represent young adult to the six or so (the final number is still under advisement) I plan on including in my first round of queries?

Easy, I put them through something I refer to as “The Agent Games”.

So far, I’ve only completed Round 1 of this endeavor. But that still cut down the number of agents that were up for consideration.

There are many ways that someone else could go about weeding out the unpromising recruits in Round 1, but here are some of the things I considered when I was going through the six pages of results that Writer’s Market generated.

  1. I kept a big eye on all of the genres they represented. Now, not representing science fiction or fantasy didn’t get them thrown off of the list. But if they stated that they did not represent those two genres, it was an automatic “no”. Also, I kept in mind future projects I’ve been contemplating. Granted, an agent doesn’t have to be forever, but I’d hate to find “the one” only to have to find different representation because my next book is out of their field of experience. If you’re looking at making the art of Typing in a Tiny Room for Hours your career, you want an agent who can go the distance with you.
  2. Availability of info was also a big factor. Almost every agent or agency on my list had a website. That’s something to keep in mind. If an agent didn’t have a website, they had to really catch my eye to stay out of the “no” pile. I want to be able to get as much information about a potential agent as I can before I submit. What do they like to read? How long have they been agenting? Did they do anything before they became an agent? Knowing these things about them is going to make it so much easier for me when it comes time for Rounds 2 & (if necessary) 3.
  3. Also, having a website with a profile or a short bio helped picture myself working with them. Not only does the bio tell me what they represent, but if it was good, it gave me an idea of who they were. I won’t lie, there were a couple that I read their bio and was like, “You sound wonderful, but I just don’t think we’d do well together.” Obviously, an agent and a writer will clash at some point. But if I can pinpoint any insurmountable differences in personality or ideology, I won’t want to submit to that agent. On the other hand, there were a few that I really liked and I put in one of my files because something about their personality or something they said just clicked with me.
  4. When they provided the titles of books or authors they represented, I always gave that a look. Did I see a lot of big names that I recognized? Those either went into the “no” or the “maybe” pile. I’m not saying that my book isn’t good enough to be in the same agency as say, Suzanne Collins (actually, it’s not, but that’s why it needs editing). It’s just that if I don’t see some unknowns, I feel that’s a pretty good sign that they prefer to work with established authors (some just outright tell you). On the other hand, WM does list the percentage of debut authors an agent normally takes. If the percentage was high they went into the “definitely check out” or the “maybe” file.

So that was my process for Round 1. I shall commence Round 2 shortly. It will involve a lot of reading, thorough perusal of websites & guidelines, and possible stalkerlike behavior on Twitter.

Anyone out there want to chime in on how they narrowed things down during their hunt for an agent?

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