A Love Letter About Writing and Heat Waves

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Yesterday it was 97 here. Today it is forecast to be the same.

Now I know many of my readers may exist in more modern conditions than I, as in, you have air conditioning.  But we live in an old house that doesn’t have it. And, at least historically (not so much anymore), we would only get maybe a few days of extreme heat every summer, and so there really wasn’t much need for it. So when it is hot, I suffer. Oh poor me and all that.

But there is still writing to be done, right?  When you are a writer, there is always writing to be done, no matter what.  The baby cries, the cows need milking, the beloved ancient parent needs tending.  But there’s till writing to be done. And so one needs to find a way to do it, in heat waves and cold snaps alike.  And even if you are cossetted from it, extreme heat is still energy-sapping. (For those of you reading this from the Southwest, I hope your terrible temperatures abate soon.) You still have to get from house to car and from car to work and from work to the grocery store.

A couple of summers ago I got in the habit of taking my computer outside and working at the table on the back deck in the cool early mornings.  When the sun hit the fence beside me, I knew my writing time was over for the day because soon it would be shining on my monitor.  It was a lovely way to get my writing done and set myself up for rest of the day.  Later, when I’d be toiling in my hot office, I’d remember my morning sojourn outside and smile.

I often observe how my cats behave in the heat. Mostly, they stretch their fat selves out as far as possible and sleep.  We should emulate them in the heat, right? Ha! Would that we could. But in some parts of the world, they do such things. The other day I was at my daughter’s and we were trying to get my five-year-old grandson to have thirty minutes of quiet time.  Not even a nap, mind you, just quiet time. So I told him about what happens in the small towns of France (and many other European countries).  How every day from noon to two the stores close and every one goes home for a break. Quiet time.  It is a lovely habit and one that can serve the rest of us well during heat waves.  Just allow yourself to take a break once in a while, for goodness sake.

Doing research for my Do That Thing class, I ran across some information last week that said most people spend a good chunk of their precious time worrying about expectations. They feel they must be perfect parents and perfect on the job. And I know for a fact that writers often feel they need to be perfect the second they throw words on the page. This makes my heart hurt. All these harsh expectations we place on ourselves.

And I think the hot days of summer when you don’t feel like doing much of anything are a good time to start practicing slowing down a little. Give yourself a break from those expectations that control you.  Get your writing done in the cool of the morning. Find an air-conditioned coffee shop and camp out there with your computer.  Go easy on yourself.

Do leave a comment about how you beat the heat!

Okay–are you ready for the big news? I have created a Facebook group for us! People are engaging in all kinds of different ways these days, and Facebook is a biggie, obviously.   The group is called Prolific and Prosperous Writers and it is closed, which means any posts you make won’t appear on your personal timeline–that way you have all the freedom in the world to kvetch about your writing without worry that civilians (those who may not understand) will read it. Join here. Please do, I can’t wait to chat there!

Offerings:

Freedom and Independence Coaching Special:

I’m running a Freedom and Independence Coaching special through the Fourth of July.    For three-month, paid in advance clients, I’m offering two free extra sessions.  That’s 14 sessions instead of 12. And for six-month, paid in advance clients, I’m adding on 4 sessions. Woot! That’s 28 sessions instead of 24.  Just think what you can get done in a few months of one-on-one coaching with me. You could get a huge start on your novel. Or finish the project that’s moldering in the drawer. Or start the process of getting an agent—or get your book self published.

Interested? Email me and we’ll set up a time to talk.

My new How to Get an Agent class is on July 11th.  (I moved the date out because I, um, forgot I was going to be out of town.) It’s a one-session class that will tell you everything you need to know about getting an agent, from query and pitch through what to ask when an agent is interested in your work.  Just in time for summer writing conference season, and the class includes an upgrade option for a critique of your query. Find out all the details and sign up here.

Friday Finesse: Writing by Hand

Last weekend at the lunch after my Essence of the Essay class, one of the students asked me if I wrote mostly on the computer, or by hand.  I answered (a bit unpleasantly smugly, I realized later) that I wrote so much content that needed to be on the computer (blog, newsletter, classes, novel) that I’d trained myself to write mostly via keyboard.

But then I started thinking about how much I actually do write by hand.  So a better answer would be that I do both.  When I’m stuck on a scene in my WIP novel, I go directly to the page. I cannot figure stuff out while typing. It has to be by hand.  There’s something about the direct physical connection from brain to hand that opens up a flow in me.  I take a lot of “priming the pump” notes by hand.  And of course, I write in my journal by hand. (Years ago, I had a brief period of keeping a password-protected journal on the computer. It was terrible.)

And I recommend you write by hand, at least once in a while, too. Why? Because writing by hand directly onto the page is a different cognitive process than typing on a keyboard.  As such, it can open up different vistas into your creative work.

In an article in the Guardian a few years ago an expert explained that the process of handwriting is more complicated than typing: “Handwriting is a complex task which requires various skills – feeling the pen and paper, moving the writing implement, and directing movement by thought,” says Edouard Gentaz, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva.

And as the article further points out, with the physical page, you can write in all kinds of ways. You can scribble notes in margins, write upside down, turn the paper sideways and write, doodle as you write.  This is a boon to your creativity and allows your brain to expand in many directions.  One more benefit–you have proof right in front of you of what you’ve done.  Yes, you can edit on the computer, but off go the corrections as soon as you’ve made them.

For a great infographic on some of these ideas, check out this page.

So I encourage you to foster some hand-writing habits, at least part of the time. (I’m certainly not advocating writing your novel draft entirely by hand—though some writers do just that.)  And let me know what new vistas it unlocks.

Meanwhile, if you are in need of unlocking new vistas, I’m running a Freedom and Independence Coaching special through the Fourth of July.    For three-month, paid in advance clients, I’m offering two free extra sessions.  That’s 14 sessions instead of 12. And for six-month, paid in advance clients, I’m adding on 4 sessions. Woot! That’s 28 sessions instead of 24.  Just think what you can get done in a few months of one-on-one coaching with me. You could get a huge start on your novel. Or finish the project that’s moldering in the drawer. Or start the process of getting an agent—or get your book self published.

Interested? Email me and we’ll set up a time to talk.

Tuesday Tip: Remember, it’s called a rough draft for a reason

I’m going back through the second draft of my WIP novel, checking for places where I have to drop things in. Most of these are little things, like another mention of a physical object that figures in the plot (in this case, a necklace), or pumping up a description that didn’t get fully mounted on the page.

But in one instance, I have a whole chapter to drop in. (Because, um, it features an important character that I failed to show anywhere in the novel. Duh.)

So this means I am writing rough draft material again for the first time in a couple of months. I’ve been rewriting and editing and getting the draft ready for beta readers. (Soon!)

And this morning I found myself laboring over every word.

WTF! I know better than this.  A rough draft is just that–the draft of a chapter or story or essay that is in its rough stages.  And just because the rest of my novel is almost ready for other eyes, doesn’t mean that this chapter needs to be.

I had to remind myself to just put the words on the page.  Let them rip. Write fast. Don’t worry about how “good” the words are once they land. Just get the damned thing written!

And that is my Tuesday tip for you–let the writing of your rough draft stink. Make it awful. Require it to be. Because once you’ve gotten those words on the page, you’ve got treasure with which to work.  You can rewrite and revise and edit to your heart’s content.  But not yet.

Remember there’s a reason it is called a rough draft and let it be, well…rough.

How difficult is it to get a literary agent?

The best way I can answer the question of the title is to tell you two stories, the stories of my two attempts to get a literary agent.

Attempt to get an agent #1

The first story happened back around 2011-2012.  I was seeking representation for my novel, Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior.  Over the course of a year or two, I actively submitted to agents.   Boy, did I ever get an education.  I had many agents respond to my query (because writing queries happens to be one of my super powers).  And then, often I’d never hear another thing.  But some did ask for either a partial or my full manuscript.  And I got great responses.

The agents complimented me on my writing, said they loved the sex scenes (it is not erotica, I promise), and enjoyed the story. But. And this was a big but–none of them thought they could sell the book because Emma Jean was too brash. Too opinionated. Too inclined to blurt out exactly what’s she’s thinking.  Too “unrelatable,” as one agent called her. (Oh, and then there was the one who took offense to her getting drunk on a plane. Because, “nobody ever does that.” Yeah, right. That’s never happened.) I lost exact count of how many times I sent Emma Jean out, but it was somewhere around 60 submissions.  Yes, 60. (Which isn’t even that many in the pantheon of literary rejection stories.)

So, long story short, I never did secure representation.  Instead, a friend told me about the small press that had bought his book, and on a wild tear one day, I submitted my book and promptly forgot about it.  Six months later they accepted Emma Jean for publication.  I sold my book without an agent.

Attempt to get an agent #2

Two years ago, I had another novel ready to submit. This one had a sweet, relatable main character and was set in a bakery. A slam dunk, I figured.  I had recently joined the Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association, and in one of their emails I noticed that an agent named Erin Niumata of Folio Literary was accepting submissions. I read her profile and decided she was the agent for me.   So I sent her the query for The Bonne Chance Bakery.  I got a reply back so fast I thought it was an auto out-of-office deal. But no. It was from Erin. And she wanted to see my full manuscript.

A week later, we talked on the phone, and she said the magic words, “I am calling to offer you representation.” Woot woot! So this time out I got my agent on my very first effort. Dreams do come true. I was right about that slam dunk thing.  My two experiences couldn’t be more different. Which is why I love to tell these stories. I think they are both encouraging in their own ways.

How you can get an agent

The moral of the story? Yes, it is hard to get an agent. But it can be done, as long as you:

  • Have a finished novel that is as good as you can make it
  • Understand how the publishing world works
  • Write a kick-ass query letter
  • Practice your pitching
  • Have some determination and patience

I can teach you the first four points in my upcoming How to Get an Agent Class.  It is a teleseminar, easily accessible by phone or computer the night of the class or in a recording after. And there are two options–class only or class + my critique of your query.

For a relatively small investment of time and money, you just may land yourself the agent of your dreams.  Find out more and sign up here. 

See you on the call!

Photo by svilen001. 

Motivation Monday: Get Thyself to the Page

Happy Monday!

And dig that cool little graphic I just made. That’s because I am hoping determined that this will be a regular feature in the coming weeks. I won’t go so far as to say every week because then I’ll just rebel against myself.  But it will be regular in some form or other, okay?

Because I figure we can all use a little bit of motivation on our Mondays. (And it is also a thing, a hashtag thing, on the social medias.)

So let’s get to it.

I have long held that you can be the best writer in the world, but if you don’t have yourself a healthy dose of motivation, it won’t matter. Because if you aren’t motivated to get your butt into the chair and write, all the talent in the world isn’t going to write the book for you.  So motivation is key.

In the class I’m currently teaching, Do That Thing, we’ve talked a lot about motivation. (One whole session was devoted to motivation and inspiration, as a matter of fact.) And I learned something fascinating, which is the role that dopamine plays motivation.

Yes, dopamine. Our old friend who we associate with pleasure (and one site goes so far as to say sins and secret cravings). Turns out it also has quite a bit to do with motivation.  I’m not going to get all scientific on you and describe how the brain works, because, um, I’m not qualified to do that.  But as a quick refresher, dopamine is a neurotransmitter,  a chemical signal that passes info from one neuron to the other.

When your brain recognizes something important is about to happen (it can be good important or bad important), dopamine kicks in and get you motivated to do something.  That something can be running from the rattlesnake that’s about to strike you (bad important), or start a writing session (good important).

Okay, so that is a vast simplification, but you get the gist. People with low levels of dopamine have been shown to have low levels of motivation.  Dopamine gets you moving, literally–Parkinson’s patients have low levels of dopamine in the substantia nigra area of their brain.

I know, I know, I love anything to do with the brain but you might not. Rather you might be at this point asking how this information can help your motivation to write.  Well, if you increase your dopamine levels, you can increase your motivation.  And here are some ways to do that:

–Baby steps. We’ve been talking about this over and over in the class, because baby steps are the best way to get things done. My mother had a saying for it that I always return to: step by step we travel far.  Baby steps give you a sense of satisfaction and positive accomplishments increase dopamine.

–Micro-accomplishments. Cross items off your to-do list.  The  more you do, the better you’ll feel, and the more dopamine you’ll create.  I’m following this one today. I woke up totally unmotivated, cross and tired.  But I have my to-do list sitting next to me, and just looking at the things I’ve already crossed out is helping to energize me.

–Focus on results. As in, how great you’ll feel when you are done. Remember, dopamine fires when something important is about to happen.

–Eat dopamine foods.  Things like dairy, fish, nuts, foods rich in Omega-3, and, wait for it–dark chocolate. More here and here.

–Praise others.  Recognizing the work of others has been shown to increase dopamine in our brains.  Find some other writers to work with!

So there you have it, the first edition of Motivation Monday. Fun times.  While you’re here, please do tell–what motivates you?

And if getting published motivates you to write, the first step in getting a traditional publisher is finding an agent.  If you’re perplexed or overwhelmed by the process, I’ve got just the class for you–the aptly named How to Get An Agent. Read all about it here.

 

photo from Wikipedia.

What to Do When You Finish a Draft

I finished draft two of my romance novel this past weekend. Woot woot! It still needs work so there was no dancing in the streets or swinging from chandeliers. Just a quiet sigh of pleasure.  And there’s always a bit of confusion as I ponder, what do I do next? So I figured a blog post about just that topic was in order.

Let it rest.  Simmer, marinate, compost, whatever you want to call it, your brain needs time to do it.  You’ve been close to this baby–so close–for months or even longer now. You’ve got to get away and get some distance from it.  Give yourself a few days, preferably at least a week. Go off and don’t think about it.  Let your subconscious do that while you’re busy playing golf or making soap or doing something, anything but working on your novel.

Decide what happens next.  (You can do this while it is composting.)  Was this your first time through, also known as the discovery draft, the rough draft,  or Shitty First Draft?  If so you likely have at least one more draft that you’re going to need to write.  But if it is your third or fourth draft, you may be pondering getting it out in the world. So, at his po9int you have a choice to either:

Write another draft or carry on.  Let’s discuss writing another draft first.  

First, of course, you’re going to re-read it. Duh. As you read, make notes. I use the post-it note method for flexibility. You can read about that and my entire theory of rewriting here.  I like to keep notes of things that I’ll need to put in next time through, ideas that will make the plot stronger, additions to character arcs.  Go through these and see what you’ve got.

Sometimes, this is a matter of going through and dropping things in. For instance, you may have decided on a physical object that is of importance to your protagonist, but you only figure this out fifteen chapters in. So now you need to go back and salt it in a couple times earlier.  These are fairly easily accomplished (once you figure out where they go.)

Do these easy run-throughs first and then see where you are. If you are several drafts in, or an excellent first-drafter, you may well feel very pleased with your work, and ready to take the next step.  And so, ta-da, it is time to get some fresh eyes on it.  You may have a trusted family member who reads all your work, or an agent or editor you work with.  Or perhaps you need to find you some:

Beta Readers.  These are the most wonderful of creatures, those lovelies who will read your book in its current form and give you feedback on it.  You can find them among friends and family (as long as they promise to be honest), amid your writer friends, or on social media.  Some of you may already have a trusted group who read your every release.  Take their ideas and incorporate them or not as you see fit and get ready to carry on. Woo-hoo! Almost there!

Here you have another choice point.  (You probably already know the answer to this.) Are you looking for a traditional publisher or will you publish yourself?

If you are going to self-publish, you will need to find an editor, formatter (or learn to do it yourself), and cover designer.  Don’t skimp on any of these, because they can make or break a book’s release.  You want your book to stand out from the crowd and actually get purchased, and going the cheap route is not going to do you any favors. Trust me.

And, if you are going to seek traditional publication, you will need to search for an agent. Fun times.  It is a process that basically involves writing a query letter, researching agents, and then submitting to them. And a whole lot more. All of which I am going to cover in my upcoming How to Get an Agent class.  Which you can read more about here.  Summer writing conferences are coming up, with opportunities to pitch, so why not learn all you can about the process and present your work in its best light?

Good luck with whatever stage you are in! And please leave a comment and let me know what draft you’re on and how you’re feeling about it.

Why yes, I’m still here

So, I didn’t blog last week.

It was, um, because of the malware attack.

No, wait, I meant the constant stream of news out of Washington.

No, here’s the truth:

It was the one-armed man.

Heavy sigh. Okay, it was none of those. I just got overwhelmed.

I’m in Week Two of my Do That Thing class, anticipating teaching a class at Sitka, filling a couple last spots in the France workshop, and working with private clients. Oh, and trying to keep up with writing the second draft of my novel.  (Almost done!)

And so the blog post fell by the wayside.

To be honest, I’m not as focused on my blog these days. Blogging has changed in ways I haven’t entirely grasped yet and it is hard to know how to react.  My stats and comments are down (like a lot of other bloggers I know) and one of the things I liked best about blogging was the community that grew up around it.  That isn’t happening any more and it makes me sad.  And it is harder to get excited about writing something when I’m not sure how many people are even reading it.

But, I have a couple ideas.

The first one is an obvious solution.  And that is–start a Facebook page!  I’m really more of a fan of Twitter and Instagram, but the one way I do like to relate on Facebook is in groups.  I find it much easier to engage with people who have the same interests as I do, rather than shouting out over the vast Facebook web.

It will be a closed group called Prolific and Prosperous Writers and there you will be able to post anything having to do with writing. Questions, interesting links, pleas for help, ideas.  I’m not going to put any limitations on joining, though you will have to request an invitation.  I think it will be fun!  With everything else that I have going, it will take me a bit before I can get it up and running, so stay tuned.

And second, I’m going to be offering a class at the end of June on…wait for it….How to Get an Agent.  Ta-da!  The class will come just in time for summer pitches at writer’s conferences, but it will go beyond pitching to instruct you on how to submit to agents when conferences are over.  And, there will be an upgrade option wherein I will read and critique your query letter.  Find out more here.

Sound good? I think so, too. So keep an eye out for the Facebook group. And check out the class!

And don’t worry, I will continue to blog here. Because, its been ten years. So I might as well keep at it a while longer.

Tracking Throughlines in Your Novel

My life has been wonderfully routine (which is a good thing–no drama, except on the page) lately, and so in lieu of a Five on Friday, I’m giving you a longer post about an aspect of novel writing.

Today, I’m talking about throughlines.

Google the word and your head might explode.  Throughline is a word much beloved of story wonks (I love those guys, too, I’m just not one of them) and some of the definitions and explanations are so complex. To put it mildly. But here’s a simply one:

A throughline is a connecting them or plot in a dramatic work.

Say, for instance, your *main character has a beloved necklace she wears all the time.  The charm on the necklace has special meaning for her.  And, her father gave her the necklace.  Double special meaning. At the start of the story, another character compliments her on the necklace.  Then she loses the necklace while doing something naughty (having sex in a gazebo, but don’t you focus on that part).  When she finds the necklace again, it is because another character (yep, the one she was having sex with) returns it to her. And he does it such a way that it changes everything for her in that moment. Ah, true love.

Anyway, sex and love aside, the necklace is a throughline. It is a piece of plot. Ish.  You see what I mean? A throughline could be a character’s efforts to get into medical school, or it could be her reaction to a book she’s reading, as long as that book is important to the plot and it is mentioned several times.  And has some relation to the plot.

Are you with me?

Dropping In

Stories of all kinds are enriched by the addition of minor throughlines.  (Of course, many stories wouldn’t exist without the bigger throughlines.) But when writing a draft, it can be hard to keep the big picture in mind. You get so focused on the scene in front of you (as you should) that it might be hard to remember you need to mention that lug nut again. But, never fear–because you can easily drop these bits in after you’ve finished a draft.

I got very good at this after rewriting, my novel **The Bonne Chance Bakery several times.  There were certain throughlines that needed to be added, to bump up a character, etc., and at first I was daunted by the thought. But then I realized it literally is like dropping something in. I have this image of me above my manuscript, aiming little parts of throughlines at it.

Tracking

Sometimes, as I’m writing, the piece I need to add is small enough that I can go back and do it at the moment I think about it. But more often, it requires some thought. And that thought will take me away from the scene I’m currently writing.  In which case I note it on my ongoing list of Things That Need to Be Added.   This is helpful not only for tracking but for keeping these items front and center in my mind. I refer to the list often enough that I’m always reading it over. And there is the thing that writing it down cements it in my mind.

You can also do fun things with throughlines like track them on large pieces of paper.  Use post-its in different colors, or markers, or any of the gazillion fun things you can find at the office supply store.  This kind of visual representation can be very helpful in figuring out what you need to add (and subtract) from your plot.

However you decide to do it, consciously tracking your throughlines can be an enormous help as you write your draft and save frustration when it comes time to rewrite. So have it.

Don’t forget–my Do That Thing program starts next week. Your thing could be writing a novel! Or organizing your lug nut collection! Whatever it is, I’ll help you get it done. You can sign up here.

*Yes, this example is taken from my WIP.  SO DON’T GO STEALING IT. Never mind. I know you won’t. There’s nothing new under the sun, anyway.

**Yes, it is still being pitched. The novel is with several editors at this very moment.

Photo by Scott Robinson.