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. 

On The Importance of Confidence in Yourself–and Your Writing

On my writing retreat last weekend, I reread my novel. Yeah, that’s right. The one I told everyone how terrible it was. How it needed major surgery. How it had plot holes so big you could drive a truck through them. How the characters were undeveloped.

In re-reading it I found that all of the above was true–to a certain degree.  But overall, the draft had a lot going for it–engaging characters, a great setting, a fun conflict (if conflicts can be considered fun).  And the writing was solid, mostly, even though I wrote much of it quite quickly.

The book wasn’t bad, but my attitude was.  I had been busy telling myself it was a piece of crap, that it was terrible and hopeless and going to be impossible to rewrite.  And that, in turn, made me feel terrible and hopeless and like I was worth nothing more than, well, a piece of crap. Because as goes my writing, so goes my life.  I’m happiest–and most confident–when I’m deep in the middle of writing a story.  And having confidence in my writing is a huge part of sustaining a regular writing practice.

So how did I manage to so spectacularly lose it? I’m not really sure, but I think it has to do with not being actively engaged in writing a novel.  I am always writing something, even if it’s just journal pages, but when I’m not working on a story of some kind, I lose faith in myself.  Of course, one needs to take a break sometimes.  And that’s what I thought I was doing. Instead, I was berating myself for the terrible work I’d done.

But, as is so often the case, the opposite of lack of confidence is not good either. This is when you are so puffed up about your work that you can’t take constructive criticism from anybody, or make good decisions about it yourself. Because you are so sure that it is all perfect! Sometimes writers mistake the experience of writing for the end result. In other words, just because the words flowed easily and you had a blast writing it doesn’t mean that it’s perfect at the end.  I’ve not yet seen a first draft that couldn’t stand some tinkering.

But I see far fewer cases of that than I do instances of writers lacking confidence in themselves. Years ago, when my kids were little they’d get worried if I was going to go complain to a teacher of a school principal about something, not wanting me to rock the boat.  I’d say, “If your mother isn’t going to stand up for you, who is?” I hope it taught them something about standing up for what was theirs.  And that’s how I feel about writing. We’ve got to learn to stand up for our work–without getting too egotistical about it.

Me included.

How’s your writing going? Do you have confidence in it?

My Most Annoying Writing Tics (Any of These Yours?)

I spent last weekend going through my novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery. My agent is about to submit it to some editors again and she suggested I might want to read through it.  I hadn’t looked at it since last August, when I rewrote it.  So I said, yeah, I’d take a glance.

Geezus.

I’m really happy with the overall state of the book. The rewrite I did last summer is the best yet, reversing some of the horror of the previous revision and adding in new dimensions to the characters and story.  But I could not believe some of the terrible mistakes I repeatedly made. I offer them to you as cautionary examples. Such as:

–My main character, Madeleine, waffles. She says things like, I was fairly certain, when she could just use the word certain. Or, it seemed a bit like. C’mon, Mad, be direct!  All her statements are modified, pacified, dumbed down, softened.  (Have to admit, I was on the lookout for this because I’d read in The Bestseller Code that characters in bestselling novels were strong, direct, not afraid to have opinions or take action. Once I started looking for how Mad acted, I cringed over and over again at how she weakened herself.)

–I over explain. Instead of trusting the reader to get it, already, I hit them over the head with what I’m telling them. Over and over again.

–I write one sentence too many. (Similar to above.) I’ve written what I need to write, and then I write more. Sigh. JUST IN CASE YOU DIDN’T GET IT.

–I tell, then show.

My clients are laughing as they read this, because I would never let them get away with doing any of these things!  I was never able to see them before because I was too close to it. Oh, and let us not forget the Wordstrumpet Hall of Fame for words that are used so many times they need a new warranty:

At this moment

And (swear to God, I start every other sentence with it)

And so

In order to

Actually

So

Of course

One of the things I found helpful was paying attention to the Word grammar suggestions. Sometimes they are laughable off the mark, but they also showed me how often I used “in order to” when “to” would do just fine.  And there may have been a few unforunate instances of using not one, but two adverbs together in a sentence. Such as really miserably. Oh God, I’m hiding under my desk at the thought!

The moral of the story is twofold: letting your work sit for a while is a good thing, and yes, those people at Microsoft know at least a few things. Or, use whatever tools you got!

What’s your worst writing habit? Leave a comment so we can revel in it together.

And please don’t forget connection calls! I’m loving connecting with you guys. You can go here and book an appointment directly.

Photo by clix.

The Wordstrumpet Last-Minute Guide to Nanowrimo

nanowrimo-badgeNanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) starts next Tuesday, November 1st. Are you ready? I did it a few years ago, resulting in an early draft of my novel, Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior.  And I’m planning to do it again this year to knock out a draft of a romance novel I have in mind. I think I have a pretty good plan for completing it, she said, modestly, which I shall share here.

First of all, loosely, here are the rules: you can prep as much as you want before November 1st, but you can’t actually write anything until that date.  Write 50,000 words and you win! Prizes include a button for your website and a certificate (at least that’s what they were last time I checked). You can sign up on the Nanowrimo website to get support and encouragement. If you’re a social type, many cities hold Nanowrimo write-ins that you can participate in.

All this is great, but the most important thing about Nanowrimo is that it encourages you to fling words at the page with abandon. You kinda have to if you’re going to meet that 50,000 word goal.  And please, please, please remember that THERE WILL BE MUCH REVISING NEEDED after November 30 has come and gone.  But you know that, right? (Its surprising how many people don’t.)

But, here’s the deal, guys, you only have a few days to prepare.  Like, three. But its not too late! You can totally get yourself in the right headspace to do this in three days. (Trust me, the right headspace is half the battle.)  And, I do highly recommend it.  Nanowrimo is a lot of fun, it  totally gets you over any fears you have about writing a novel, and it helps you learn how to silence your inner critic.

So here goes, the Wordstrumpet Last-Minute Guide to Nanowrimo:

  1. Come up with an idea. Maybe you already have one? Maybe you’ve had an idea for a novel for forever? This is the time to do it.  Here’s a little secret about writing a novel: you can use any idea you want. Really. Its all about how you put it together on the page. Just remember that all novels that work are based on conflict. Somebody (your main character) wants something, but forces array to prevent him from getting it.
  2. Do some prep work. This doesn’t need to be extensive, but it will help if you know your settings (main character’s home and work place, plus her hang-out at a minimum),and some things about your most important  characters (email me if you need a character dossier for this).
  3. Create a loose outline for your plot. (Quit cringing, pantsers.)  This can be as simple as a list of scenes or you can make it more complicated if your brain works that way. (Mine does not.)
  4. Write notes. Ponder things like theme, motivation, the above-mentioned conflict and write your thoughts down. These will likely change as you progress through the pages, but it is good to have some initial thoughts. I like to create a little binder or use a spiral for this, so I’ve got everything together in one place.
  5. Figure out a schedule.  I like to get up early and write, so that my most important thing is finished first. I set a goal of 2,000 words a day. If I stuck to it exactly, I’d end up with 60,000 words after the 30 days of November. But life does intervene. There’s Thanksgiving, for instance. And that’s a time suck if there ever was one.  With my 2K a day goal, I’m good if I lose a couple days to emergency grandchild watching or whatever.
  6. Monitor your habits. This is a good time to forego that nightly class of wine. (Brahahahaha. Like that’s going to happen.) Make sure you eat well and get enough exercise and sleep.
  7. Write like the wind.  Make freaking forward progress! Your goal is to hit 50K words, not obsess over every word. If you’re going to win this, you’re going to have to write fast.  The time for rewriting is when you are finished
  8. Be aware you might not finish. Winning Nanowrimo means completing 50,000 words on one single novel project in a month. You might choose, from the start, to write more of a novella, or know that you’re not going to be quite finished at 50K. And that’s okay–because you’ll have most of it done.
  9. Have fun. We don’t do this to torture ourselves. Do we?

So, are you going to do it? C’mon, let’s! Leave a comment and let’s chat about it.

What it Takes to Be a Writer: Part Three

You’ve revved up your brain, planted your butt in the chair, and now you’re ready to write. I sometimes envision this moment as that of a piano player: you place your fingers on the keys, expecting great music to pour forth….and nothing happens.

You freeze. You don’t know what to write. Or the words won’t come. Or you are so damn critical of the words that do come that you shut down the computer and decide to go clean up dog poop in the backyard.  Because dealing with that kind of shit is better than dealing with the crap you’re putting on the page.

Ahem. I have news for you. Writing crap is good.  Writing crap is desirable (at least in a first draft). GETTING ANY WORDS ON THE PAGE AT ALL IS YOUR ONLY GOAL.  So do it. That’s my first bit of advice:

Write Crap

Just write, even if that means reminding yourself how awful you’re doing as you go. My first drafts are full of all caps exhortations about what terrible work I’m doing. Like: THIS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE AND IT’S REALLY STUPID. Once I’ve gotten it out of my system, I can carry on with the rest of it.

Here is an unedited glimpse of what I wrote yesterday as I tried to get going:

Okay I’m just sitting here with the cat, staring at the computer.  What the f#%k. Staring never got the writing done. Just write something. This is where prompts are really handy!   Start with the image.

And I did. I started with the image and the scene flowed from there.  Writing crap, and reminding yourself of it, is incredibly freeing.

Write Crap Often

Like, every day. We already talked about making time and conserving energy for writing in part two.  Do your best to write as often as possible. It makes a huge freaking difference, I’m not kidding.  Doing this, you gain momentum. You have that lovely feeling that half of you is living in your fictional world.  And because of that, you’re in love with the real world you actually do inhabit.  And when you are in love, you want to spend more time with your beloved, correct? So you will be eager to return to writing your novel.  And that, my friends, is the power of writing every day. (Even if it’s crap.)

Plan Ahead

I’ve proven to myself over and over that I procrastinate and get distracted when I don’t know where I’m going.  This is why I like to write a loose outline for the plot of my novel, and why I’m such a huge fan of character dossiers.  The other thing I like to do is write notes to myself. I do a lot of “writing about” the project in my journal, and I just about always write little notes to myself in the manuscript as to where to go next.  Then when I open the file first thing in the morning, I know where I’m going. I often diverge from my plans, but at least I have a way in to get started.

Employ Systems

There’s lots of help out there for writers.  You can download Freedom, which will turn off your access to the internet for a predetermined amount of time.  You can use a Pomodoro timer that allows you to write in spurts (or just use your phone’s timer).  You can use Scrivener.  The point is, there are all kinds of tools out there that will help you in your daily writing. Find the ones that work for you and use them.

So there you have it. What are your favorite tricks to get words on the page?

Dog Days of Summer and Rewriting

wasp_macro_wasp_243277_lI’m back. It didn’t seem like much of a hiatus, at least from this end. And I’m still not finished with the rewrite. But I’m making excellent progress and feel very good about it.  (And, so you don’t think I’m all fakey optimistic, let me just remind you that I sat out most of July working on it because I didn’t know how to approach it.)

I have a couple of brilliant thoughts on rewriting to share, but first, let me tell you a few fun things that happened while I was gone:

  • I got a bee sting while valiantly defending my three-year-old granddaughter from said bee. Her mother is allergic, and we’re not yet sure if Liv is. She’s been stung once, but often the allergic reaction doesn’t occur until the second or third sting. I sure didn’t want to be responsible for anything happening, so I was glad the bee stung me. But it turns out I’m having a fairly intense localized reaction, with my arm red and swollen to about the size of an elephant’s leg. And it itches like a mo-fo.
  • I have a dying root in a tooth. If you’ve never experienced this, it is hard to explain the agony.  And I thought being pummeled by my massage therapist was bad. Also, a helpful note: do not get a toothache in August because every dentist in town is on vacation.  I’m in between dentists because I needed to find a holistic one, aka, one who will not fill my mouth full of mercury. I already have plenty, thank  you very much, and I just went on a nasty three-month cleanse to get rid of it.  Anyway, I have an appointment two weeks hence. Meanwhile, I’m swishing with coconut oil and Listerine and salt water, and using clove oil and Orajel. Also taking lots of ibuprofen, which I know is terrible for me but c’mon, this pain is intense.

Aren’t I a fun date?

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that over with, on to the gems of wisdom about rewriting. Here goes:

  • Every book is its own beast.  You have to honor the shape of what you have, you really do, and listen to how the book responds as you work. Some planned changes just may not work when you actually get to it. For instance, I figured out this elaborate backstory for one of the characters that was just perfect. I planned to fit it in in dribs and drabs. But when I actually got to places it might go, it didn’t fit.  So I had to let it go.
  • Rewriting happens in macro swaths, such as rethinking a character, but the meat of it is in the micro. How a character reacts to the character you’ve rethought, for instance, which you show in dialogue or action.  I’m struck this time through what makers of magic we are–erase one observation from a character’s head and you’ve changed the whole scene. Amazing. Which reminds me of something that used to happen all the time when I was in a writer’s group. I’d bring in a rewrite and people would wax poetic about how much better it was–when really all I’d done was change one or two tiny little things. But that’s the power we wield.
  • It really helps to have someone you can hash out ideas with. I was truthfully sort of scared of my agent at first, but this time through we’ve talked a couple times and emailed about what I’m doing. Also, when Debbie and I went on our writing retreat, we discussed our stories on breaks and at night. It really helps.  Find someone with whom you can brainstorm–or just moan and whine to.

Okay, that’s it, that’s all I’ve got for now. I’m going to go take some more Ibuprofen and ice my elephant’s leg arm. But, I’ve missed you. So please tell me what you’ve been doing this summer and how the writing is going.

Photo by hberends.

Writing Your Way Back to Yourself

Hohos JournalsYears ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Madeleine L’Engle, author of one of the best books ever, A Wrinkle in Time, speak.  I brought my sister, a designer along.  L’Engle was inspiring, gracious, and fascinating and when her talk was over, my sister turned to me and said, “She makes me wish I was a writer.”

Isn’t that wonderful? L’Engle had presented such an incredible picture of what it’s like to lead the writer’s life that even non-writers got swept up in the vision. And to me, it just reinforced what I already knew: that writing is the best passion in the world.  There’s nothing I love more than being totally enraptured by a story I’m writing, or completely wrapped up in putting together an article about writing.

But there’s another reason beyond both of these, that I love writing. And that is because it constantly and consistently brings me back to myself. Through throwing words at the page, I write my way home, over and over again.

It’s easy to get lost these days. There’s a cacophony of noise out there—social media, news headlines, videos, a contentious and distracting presidential election.  It is way to easy to drown in all of the input our poor overloaded brains take in on a daily basis and to feel confused, puzzled or out of sorts—without even knowing why.  When this happens to me, I pull out my journal.

It is all too easy to sneer at journal writing as the purview of the wealthy who have nothing more important to do than write delicate entries about their fragile emotions.  And yet, when one is in the grip of emotion, confounded about how to respond to the anxieties of the world, there is no better antidote than throwing words on the page.  I went through a period, many years ago, when I wrote in my journal every day.  That hasn’t been true of me for a long while, but I do journal in fits and spurts, regularly enough to call myself a journaler.  At the start of this year, for instance, I filled an entire spiral with words. And then one day I was just done and I didn’t journal again for a long time.

Most often these days I don’t journal because I’d rather be writing fiction.  If one has limited time to write, one must choose what one is going to write carefully.  Also, if one wants to write fiction but is blocked, one can easily use journaling as an excuse!  All those caveats aside, I do think every writer should consider keeping a journal at least sporadically, because it is so tremendously helpful in getting the crap out of your head and onto the page.

For the record, I come from a lineage of diarists. My maternal grandmother, who I don’t remember because she died when I was barely three, recorded a diary entry nearly every day of her adult life. (Those are her journals in the photo—they hold pride of place in a shelf in my office.)  To my great disappointment, they tell very little of her inner life, but rather, drily note who visited, what she made for dinner, etc. (And to what will likely be my descendant’s great disappointment, my diaries tell very little of what happened in my world, but rather are dedicated to me figure out emotions and stories on the page.)

There’s all kinds of journaling you can do.  I could write helpful snippets about writing morning pages , or keeping a gratitude journal, or writing unsent letters,, or writing about your day. But I’m not going to, because honestly, the best thing you can do is grab yourself a journal, open it up, and write. Start where you are now, wherever that is, and end when you’re finished. That’s all there is to it.

Do you write in a journal? Come on over to the blog and tell how you use it!

Otherwhere: March 7

carrousel_evening_lights_223804_l
The writer’s life is a mad carnival ride

No snappy titles today, but I’ve got lots of great writing links for you. So let’s get right to it.

Are you trying to ride the news cycle with your current novel? Might not be the best idea.

I gotta admit, sometimes I wonder about this: is writing fiction a worthy endeavor?

What is your story about? When an editor asked me this, it clarified everything. (But then, I can be a bit slow on the uptake.)

How to read more!

Ever thought about applying for a grant for your writing?

The writer’s outlook on life.

Sharing is caring.

Marketing, then and now.

Maybe this is what’s wrong with my current WIP.

My son and daughter-in-law saw Hamilton last November and have been obsessed ever since. What you can learn from it.

Larry Brooks on structure and other things.

Do you need a pen name?

And finally, the seven things a writer needs to make a living.

What have you been reading around the web this past week?

 

Photo by manitou.

 

Why Every Writer Should Do Nanowrimo

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this Sunday November 1st?   Shield-Nano-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiRes

Why yes, yes it is, Charlotte.

Thank you.  So you know what that means:

Drumroll, please….

It's time for Nanowrimo!

What's that you say? You just crawled out from your writing cave and you haven't heard of Nanowrimo?  Well, let me clue you in. Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month, wherein participants write a novel during the month of November.  Yeah, the month with Thanksgiving and Black Friday in it.  Uh-huh.

For the purposes of Nanowrimo, a novel is considered to be 50,000 word,s which usually isn't a full-length novel, but its darn close. And to get 50K words done in a month is incredible.  You can finish the rest of it later.

I know.  Sounds like madness.  But its really pretty fun, in a masochistic kind of way.  And even if you only make it part way through, I believe it will benefit your writing.  Here's why:

1.  It will kick start you into a regular writing habit.  In order to complete Nanowrimo, you've got to write every day.  It's just too easy to get behind otherwise.  Yeah, some people may do it all in a few crazy-ass huge word count sessions, but for most people, the challenge will get accomplished a day at a time.  This is how all writing gets done over the long haul, and so even if you don't get to 50K words, you'll have gone a long way to cement a good habit.

2.  It will get you in the mindset of attaining daily writing goals.  When I've done the challenge (I actually completed it one year, have gone about half way in other years) I set myself a daily page count goal of 2,000 words to allow for days off and emergencies.  At other times of the year, I go for less than that, say in the 1K to 1,500 K range.  If I start to complain that such word counts are just too much, I remind myself of Nanowrimo and the 2,000 words a day.  And I keep writing.   Nanowrimo is the ultimate marathon.  Once you've completed it, you know you can do it again and you can't be a slacker!

3.  You can take advantage of the collection energy.  I'm not sure how many people do Nanowrimo each year, but it's in the millions, world-wide.  (It started out in 2000 with 21 people.)  Just think of the energy of all those people holed up in their writing caves, working away! It is astounding.  Plus, there are local meet-ups all over the world, which you can find out about on the site.

4.  You can get encouragement and advice from other writers.  There's tons of it on their website, and they generally send out helpful and motivating emails throughout the month as well.  But you do have to sign up for all this.

5.  It's the best training to write fast.  More and more in my old age, I'm convinced that just throwing words on the page is the way to go.  We too often let the inner critic or the inner roommate take over and rule us while we are writing, and that just slows us down.  Am I always able to write fast? No.  But its my goal. And writing 2K words a day helps.

6.  It gives you bragging rights.  Let's face it, we writers don't get a lot to crow about.  We pretty much do the same thing day after day, and then when we are finished we send our work out into the world and endure rejections.  So why not take advantage of something that actually let's you win–and give you something to brag about?

7.  It gives you an ironclad excuse to write.  When I was an MFA student, my favorite thing was to say, "Sorry, I can't, I'm a student and I've got an assignment due." For some reason people took this much more seriously than when I said, "Sorry I can't, I need to work on my novel."  Nanowrimo gives you an excuse!  You can now say, with grave authority "Sorry, I can't, I'm on deadline." Booyah!

Bonus reason:  It's fun!!!!!  Yeah, a non-writer hearing about writing 2K words a day and calling it fun would think we're nuts.  But you write because you love it.  You write because its fun.  So let yourself in on the party.

So, do tell: are you up for Nanowrimo? Have you done it before? Do you plan to do it again? 

(For other posts related to Nanowrimo, go here.)

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.