But I don’t wanna write!

How is it that sometimes the very thing we love to do most, we just flat out don’t want to do. This seems impossible, like not wanting chocolate or ice cream. Like waking up one day and just saying, I don’t like coffee anymore. I’m just not going to drink a cup today. But it happens. Sometimes, we just don’t want to write.

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Sometimes we just don’t want to write.

For a host of reasons, we find ourselves just not in the mood. The reasons can range from our mental state to our plot. Here are a few reasons that make it hard for me to write. Sometimes, a lot of times, when I face the problem, I just plain and simple choose not to write, but when I know I’m not going to have time in the future or I have a deadline, I have a few solutions I fall back on to solve the problem.

Problem: A FUZZY HEAD

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A fuzzy head. Get it?

When I can’t think clearly, it’s usually due to fatique. I have the most time to write after I get home from teaching middle school students all day. But after spending my day explaining the kinetic theory to kids who’d rather be playing Clash of Whozits and Snap-a-whating each other on their phones, my head can be a bit fuzzy. I don’t know about you, but I need a clear mind to write.

Solution: A nap and some coffee. Write outside. A nap. A shower. A nap.

Problem: A case of the I-stinks

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Sometimes, I just get down on myself as a writer. It might be from reading my own first draft. It might be from reading a published work that is so phenominal that it makes me realize how pitiful my own work is. It might be from seeing so many other friends succeeding and feeling like I might not ever achieve that. Whatever the reason, this can make it hard to write.

Solution: Get out some of your favorite things you’ve written and read them again to remind yourself that you have written good things. Call a friend. A good friend and talk it out. Read something you love, written by someone else, and identify the things you do that are similar. Also, identify the things you could do that will improve your writing. Finally, identify that knowing that you CAN improve is a sign of a good writer.

Problem: A disconnect from your story

Sometimes I’m just not feeling it anymore. I’ve lost that lovin feeling, and it prevents me from wanting to keep writing.

Solution: Court your characters, get to know them again. Do character developing activities to get to know more about them. Sometimes I even change their names and appearances to help myself think of them from a different angle.

Problem: A better idea

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Changes can feel insurmountable

Every once in a while, I’ll be about half way through my story and I’ll realize that there’s a better way of writing it. Starting over seems so insurmountable that it just makes me want to quit.

Solution: Sleep on the changes. If they still feel right later, then they are worth making. None of us want to put out less than our best work. Take a break. Work on something else and come back with the idea of tackling this as a new book. Tackle it in small chunks and reward yourself for meeting goals.

Do you have other solutions to these problems? Do you have other problems besides these that cause you to stop writing? Please share!

Times haven’t changed; our dirty laundry is just easier for everyone to see now.

I love a well written story. No, I don’t think you understand. I love them like I love pizza. I love them with that kind of love that makes you say things through gritted teeth when you talk. I love the timeless stories. The ones that have been told for thousands of years and still we think about them, put ourselves in the character’s positions and marvel at the plot.

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A lot of people might be surprised to know that I went to seminary after high school. I’m still not sure why I did it and I only made it through one year because I couldn’t stand being separated from the hot guy I was dating at the time (who just so happens to be the hot guy I’m married to now.) So, it’s probably safe to assume I didn’t do a lot of studying the scriptures that year. I did, however, do my fair share before that. In fact, I’d read the Bible front to back nearly three times. So I was surprised when I ran across a story I didn’t remember this morning while reading, surprised because it was one of those talk-through-gritted-teeth, love-you-like-I-love-pizza type of stories and I’m not sure how I forgot it.

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We, the humans of today, think we’ve corned the market on drama but when I read stories like the one I read this morning, I realize times haven’t changed, our dirty laundry is just easier for everyone to see. The story I read sees your Facebook drama and raises you a love saga between harlot and Hosea, between God and Israel. The story goes like this: God is ticked. He feels cheated on. He’s gone out of his way to show his love for Israel, rescuing them from slavery a few times and going to battle for them and what-not and they sort of forget all that and decide that it looks like more fun to worship the idols of the surrounding nations. He wants his good friend Hosea to sympathize so he’s like, you want to know how I feel? Go out and get yourself an adulterous woman. Better yet, go find an adulterous woman who’s got a few kids, someone who you know has a real wild side and can’t be tied down to one man and then make her your wife.

So the crazy thing is, he actually goes out and does it. And after a while, it’s no surprise when he finds that she’s been cheating on him. But the thing is he loves her…like really loves her. He pleads with her to stay. At the same time, God and Israel are going back and forth too. The chapter headers are kind of funny to read because it’s like, Israel is Punished. Israel Repents. Israel Restored. Judgement against Israel. God’s Love for Israel. And at the same time, Hosea and his wife are having their own relationship drama. He forgives her and takes her back but she just keeps stepping out on him and everyone in town knows it. So here he is alone, left with all the kids they had together, rejected and then he hears that she’s been sold into slavery. What does he do? He scrounges up all the shekels he owns and he finds her and he pays for her freedom and brings her home to be his wife. What a love story! This is pre-Titanic, people. This is hard-core love that can still be felt thousands of years later.

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There are a lot of layers to be peeled back in this story and multiple messages buried within the layers aside from the heart-twisting saga on the surface. That’s good writing. Maybe someday I’ll master that. My synopsis doesn’t do the story justice. And I’m still not sure how I missed it the first few times around but I recommend reading it for yourself. Let me know what you think of the story. Happy reading.

2 LITTLE WORDS THAT CAN MAKE OR BREAK YOUR MS: THE END

10488290_10152533971360993_7822460364161932901_nThere comes a point in the life of a manuscript when certain questions must be asked. If a FULL manuscript has lived adventurously, traveling the world through cyber mail, visiting the in-boxes of agents galore only to return to you time and time again, it could be because of ridiculously long sentences like this one or…OR it could be because of the way you’ve ended your story.

It has been said that the most important pages you will ever write are the first and last five pages of your novel. If this is true, and I’m beginning to think it is, we have to learn to write better endings. And being the I-like-to-do-things-backwards type of girl that I am, I have learned this the hard way. So here are some things not to do when writing an ending.

 DO NOT:

1. Tie it into a neat little bow at the end that is all-too-convenient for everyone involved. I know you’ve been writing for eons and you just want the story to end but, don’t do that!

2. Throw your readers off a proverbial plot cliff. Even though things are winding up, your manuscript shouldn’t lose the momentum it had during the rest of the story. It should have the same feel to it even when it’s ending.

3. Be afraid of happy endings. You don’t have to kill your main character to create a twist at the end of your story. Happy endings are still possible. You may just have to think of a funky way for your MC to achieve it.

LOOK TO THE STARS

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An earth shattering ending – how, how, how do we write it? Start by looking to the stars. Is it shameful to look to the work of successful writers for inspiration? I say nay-nay! Let’s face it, there is no new thing under the sun. (A quote from my favorite book BTW.) No story has been written that hasn’t already been told. We just put a new twist on it, spiffed up the characters a little bit, modernize the setting and POOF…“new” story. Recently, I sat down and pinpointed what made an unforgettable ending for me and this is what I came up with:

UNFORGETTABLE ENDINGS ARE MADE OF…

There are  a few different formulas that, for me, produce an unforgettable ending.

1. A magnetic connection to the main character. It might not be the most eventful story I’ve ever read but I am so drawn to the character that I can’t stop reading. I want what he wants and if he gets it in the end then I celebrate with him and if he doesn’t I mourn with him. This type of unforgettable ending is more about the stuff sandwiched in between beginning and end than anything. I KNOW, I KNOW I’m contradicting my earlier statement about the first and last 5 pages. First, shut your snarky face. Second, keep reading and you’ll see that’s still true most of the time. *Sigh* And…I’m sorry I told you to shut your snarky face.

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Moving on. Think about movies like Rudy. Did we really care that he was a scrawny goober who dreamed about fulfilling a destiny that was a size too big for him? I mean come on, isn’t that everyone’s story? Nothing wildly original here. But it was the way Angelo Pizzo wrote Rudy’s character that made us love him, made us want to shout “Rudy!” at the top of our lungs. So when he did make it at the end, which we all saw coming, we felt emotion – not because it was a mind blowing event but because we cared for Rudy.

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Another example is John Green’s Paper Towns. Geek guy falls for popular girl – done a million times over, HOWEVER the sarcastic, irreverent voice of the MC and his cohorts keeps you reading. You want to know what impossibly scornful thing will be said next and before long you are deeply vested in weather Margo will speak to Quentin Jacobsen at school tomorrow or not. I’m a 36 year old educated mother of three…AND I WANT TO KNOW! That, my friends, is the power of an unforgettable ending.

A well written twist – not one thrown in at the last minute to fix a bad ending- can be unforgettable.

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2. An amazing twist makes for a unforgettable ending. One of my favorite twisted endings is from The Game, starring Micheal Douglas and Sean Pen. The whole time you don’ t know who Nicholas Van Orton can trust. Everyone has turned against him and he can no longer tell the difference between the game and reality. In the end, *spoiler alert*  his brother shoots him and he falls three stories to what should be his death only to find everyone he knows waiting to congratulate him for making it through the game at the bottom, his brother included. They were all in on it and you never knew it the whole time…or I didn’t anyway. A well written twist – not one thrown in at the last minute to fix a bad ending- can be unforgettable.

We love to see the Wicked Witch of the West shout, “I’m melting! I’m melting!”

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3. Another element that makes for an unforgettable ending is when you are dying to see the villain get theirs. A well developed antagonist can drive your story all the way to the end. Making your reader love to hate the enemy can cause them to hold onto the last drop just to see the villain get what is coming to them. Make it count! Think about it. We love to see the Wicked Witch of the West shout “I’m melting! I’m melting!” It never gets old.

If cupid’s arrow has wedged itself into your heart for the main characters of a story, what happens to them in the end will hold more weight for you.

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4. And finally, a romance that makes you fall in love all over again can sear an ending into your mind in a way that makes it unforgettable. When two people have that extra special connection you want to fight for it, because it’s rare. A well written romance can be the momentum for a plot. If cupid’s arrow has wedged itself into your heart for the main characters of a story, what happens to them in the end will hold more weight for you. Look at endings of classic or popular love stories to see how they worked for other successful writers. Scarlet’s ending wasn’t the sweetest in Gone with the Wind but we all gave a darn. And what about The Notebook? Didn’t it rip our hearts out on a Saturday night right before Easter service? And you cried so hard your eyes swelled shut for church the next morning? No? Just me? All right then. And folks keep your boos and hisses to yourself; book and movie sales say it all. The Twilight series had a grip on our culture for a significant amount of time and left its mark on the Young Adult genre so don’t overlook the ending.

So…what about you? What are some of your favorite endings that you, or I – I’m not ashamed to be selfish here – could be inspired by? Do tell.

 

How NOT to bore your readers.

27182_1366319728277_1326643_nI can never stray far from my first love: Psychology. To me, one of the most interesting aspects of human behavior is the way civilized humans still revert to primitive needs in order to make decisions. We authors can use this information to our advantage. It’s a fact: people don’t pay attention to boring things. So, how can we understand what keeps humanity’s attention so we can write the next novel that reaches across the reader spectrum and pleases a broad group of readers? According to BrainRules.com there are five things that can help us do that. As humans, when we assess anything, we ask ourselves a few basic questions.

 

1. Can it eat me?

downloadWhy are zombie stories so popular? Since the last time you remember being stalked by a higher member of the food chain was oh, let’s see…NEVER, you don’t get to experience the primal fears of being hunted too often. That doesn’t mean these concerns aren’t still innate – a part of our DNA. People like to read stories that make them feel alive and in tune with their human instincts. That’s why stories that have some threatening element which potentially turns the  main character into the main course, are ones that do NOT bore the reader.

2. Can I eat it?

download (1)Let’s face it, we spend a good portion of the day thinking about what we can or can’t eat. Stories that include a strong food element get in touch with a deep rooted constant urge for humans to satisfy hunger. That’s why books like The Hunger Games, which describes food in a way that could make you drool no matter how many calories you just ingested, are novels that do NOT bore their readers.

3. Would it make a good mate?

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Since man was created, he concerned himself with finding a mate. Studies show that qualities thought to be attractive by the opposite sex are all primitive instincts based on the health of an individual for producing healthy offspring. Now, I know that’s not what you’re thinking when you’re on the prowl, “Gee, he’s got nice straight teeth. Our children’s dentist bills should be low.” Maybe not consciously anyway. Regardless, successful books often contain a strong, well written love relationship that does NOT bore the reader.

4. Does it want to be my mate?

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Some of the most riveting, angst filled stories involve a you-want-me-but-I-don’t-want-you element. Many of us have either been on the receiving or the delivering end of a relationship like this so we can identify with the pain in this kind of story. Broken relationships just make good stories and an author that can relay this sort of angst in a way that is real and raw to the reader has created a novel that does NOT bore the reader.

5. Have I seen it before?

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This is the instinct we want to use against our readers. We want to use the primal tendency of fight or flight to excite our target group. When humans encounter something they’ve never seen before they either gawk in amazement or their bodies react to a surge of adrenaline released into the bloodstream. As authors, we’ll take either reaction! Adrenaline junkies fuel an entire industry! If you can give someone that sort of thrill on their couch at home, you have a novel that does NOT bore the reader, my friend. And if your novel is so novel (pardon the pun) that people stand and gawk, well, then you’re the next big thing and you’ve most definitely written something that does NOT bore your readers.

People write books that imitate the great ones. Authors like J.K Rowling, Stephanie Meyer and Suzanne Collins all had unique stories we’d never seen before or a new approach toward an old concept we never considered. These elements are what made their books interesting to readers that never considered reading Sci-Fi or Dystopian or Fantasy a day in their lives.

Am I saying you have to write a magic filled horror with an obscene love element to be a successful author? NO! Please don’t. I’m suggesting you use the very things that make us human to create a story that holds your reader’s interest and satisfies them on the deepest and most primal of levels. What are some different twists you can put on these 5 basic instincts that could be the next big story?

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU’VE GONE MANUSCRIPT BLIND

IMG_20130728_113951Perspective. It’s abstract yet it’s everything. It’s what keeps our writing fresh and makes it relevant. It’s what gives our stories that malleability to conform to whatever we want or need it to be and it’s what causes an agent to fall in love with or instantly disconnect with our work. Perspective is essential, yet if we lose it we are spinning our wheels in the proverbial mud that is our WIP. So how do we get it?

Make sure people are looking at your writing.

Many of us are quiet about our endeavors in writing. We tell ourselves we will be more outward with it when we are finally published. (Mostly because we’re tired of answering the question: “Oh, you write? Where is your book sold?”) But if we want to be able to answer that question with a resounding “BARNES AND NOBLE” then you have to let other people see your work. We lack the perspective as humans to stay objective toward our own work. We need a fresh eye and a different outlook. You might be influencing your characters to act the way you would in a certain situation while others would do it differently. Letting other people read our manuscript, opens us up to a whole new range of scenarios for our characters. Think of other people’s input on your MS as deposits into an idea bank. You don’ t have to spend them if you don’t want to but the ideas are there when you need them.

Contests

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Contests are not for the weak of heart. It can be discouraging when you don’t even make it passed the initial selection rounds, however, many contests come with fantastic (and not so fantastic) feedback from published authors, editors, bloggers and the reading public in general. I have been at the place where I worked so hard on a manuscript that the words didn’t even look like words anymore. I had gone manuscript blind. Perspective from contests (even when we don’t win the contest) give us insight to issues with the MS that we couldn’t see before.

Take Criticism

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If someone told you your baby was ugly you’d punch them in the face. Okay, maybe you wouldn’t but you sure as heck wouldn’t give them roses. Our manuscripts are our babies – our blood, sweat and tears – but we MUST learn to take criticism for them. After all, our readers are why we write and if they don’t “get it” then we aren’t doing our job. I say this with total subjectivity. Of course, we don’t write to please all readers but we must be open to change for the sake of the reader if  it’s not compromising our voice or the integrity of our work.

Take a step back for saturation’s sake!

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I know you would never abandon your child and that’s what it feels like when you walk away from a manuscript but sometimes taking a step back to work on another project for a while – and I mean a while – can bring all the perspective we need. It’s the best thing we can do for ourselves and the WIP.

What about you? How do you find perspective? I’d love to try your techniques.

Beta you wish you were better at self editing.

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I’m a writer for gosh sake. Grammatical blunders stand out to me like turds in a punch bowl. I can spot formatting errors on a manuscript on the sidewalk from the roof of the Willis Tower. (For your information, that’s the tallest building in the U.S.) I can detect a homophone misuse better than a shark smells blood in the water…UNLESS it’s in my own writing. Dadgum, this chaps my chassy! I just wish I could write something and edit it myself.

Don’t get me wrong I love, love, love my beta readers and the valuable criticism they give. Even if I wrote a squeaky clean novel, I would still give it to them for their input. However, the times I wish I didn’t need them are for the edits that don’t require a full rewrite. Any time I want to clean up some dialogue, add a scene or give a few more details I have to give puppy dog eyes to my betas so they’ll give it another look or in a perfect world give it to a whole new set so the MS is new and fresh to their eyes. That’s what it’s all about really – fresh eyes.

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The reason we are the worst editors for our manuscripts is we are saying the words before we even read them.

We know what it’s supposed to say. Heck, we have it memorized. Taking a month or two break from your MS can help with editing but that is so much harder to do than people think. The only way I can do that is by writing something else and putting it out of my mind for awhile.

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I’m guilty of it. I’ve made a few small changes before sending to an agent. I read it over. I had my husband read it over and it looked great. WHY….why oh why do we not see our typos until after we’ve hit the send button? Is it because we have to psych ourselves out to hit it in the first place? Don’t think just do, we say. Hit send. HIT IT NOW! Once it’s out there I think I’d rather not see the blasted blunders at all because I’m on the verge of vomiting for about three days after I realize I’ve launched my own personal blooper reel into someone’s slush pile.

The moral of the story is, sending a manuscript quickly never feels as good as sending a pristine one. Besides, we all know the turn around rate. It’s not like sending your MS quickly will merit you a thirty minute response.

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Do breathing exercises, have someone talk you down, relive nightmares from the past, whatever you have to do to make yourself send only when your manuscript is ready. Preachin’ to the choir here.

How about you? Have you ever sent too soon? Has mercy and grace abounded to you and you actually got a request from it? Please tell me it’s possible. Tell me your horror stories too! (Horror is one of the typos I sent in a query recently. Guhh!! Two R’s in horror. Finger slipped, spell correct failed me and I was too eager to hit send. Caught it seconds afterwards.)

Are you an MS abuser?

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We never really know when discouragement is going to come or what will bring it on. I’ve received plenty of rejections and most days I can just twitch my shoulders and chalk it up to subjectivity. But other days a rejection can feel like someone just tossed me a bag of concrete I wasn’t ready for.  I’ve been catching concrete this week.

Why all of the sudden, you ask, are rejections so hard to take? I entered a contest recently and got some wonderful feedback on my latest MS. Good criticism equals lots of work and sometimes it’s hard to pull up your sleeves and dive back into a manuscript you thought was finished…but then again, what am I if I don’t? I’ve been so tempted just to move on and start another novel with hopes this one will be the one that won’t draw a single rejection, though I only started sending out queries for this MS in May and have had more request for it than any other I’ve written. But what is my writing if I don’t make it better when I know it can be?

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Walking away from a manuscript when you’re weary is like neglecting a child when she’s being more trying than usual.

When we feel like abandoning our latest novel in a bassinet on the front steps of the closest orphanage for unloved manuscripts we need to find a way to get excited about approaching our work from a different angle. View it as a new project all together and if you are lucky enough to have some good criticism to get you started then break it down piece by piece and get the most out of it. This is an opportunity to make your story whatever you want it to be all over again without having to spend months drumming up another 80K words. The bulk of your story is there; just squish it between your fingers and mold it into the new, shiny, better MS I know you can write.

Here are some ways you can renew your excitement for writing.

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1. Read! Pick up a new book. Get excited about it and think about how you can bring some of that excitement to your own writing.

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2. Change things up. Sometimes trying the same query with the same manuscript that keeps pulling in rejections over and over is a bit like beating your head against the wall. Rework your query from a different angle. Or maybe work on the story itself. Write a few new exciting scenes for your novel or rework old ones. Run them by your editor and see if they might improve the story. Think of your main character from a different perspective. Maybe even change their name. 

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3. Read success stories of authors who’ve been rejected tens of hundreds of times like this one for encouragement. See what they did and didn’t do to get their work out there.

What do you think? If you have fears that maybe there’s just not a market for your novel or you think you’ve got an idea for a better story do you move on or do you make perfection out of it before you walk away and if no one picks it up, at least you knew it was your best work?

A list of firsts for me.

I’ve entered the LV13 pitch contest and the contestants are participating in a blog hop. Feel free to get involved by clicking on the link at the end! Here are a few first memories for me!

  1. How do you remember your first kiss?
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It was a tragedy with a happy ending. My first REAL kiss was under a fur tree with this really cute guy. My only other experience was with this real winner who wanted to play tonsil hockey and so I thought that was how all guys kissed. As he leaned in, I opened my mouth wide and….well, I bit him in the face. I was so embarrassed and wined about how he’d never call me back. He just pulled me closer and said so sweetly, “I’ll teach you how.” I couldn’t help it. I had to marry him!

  1. What was your first favorite love song?mariah-carey-boyz-2-men-450ms092309

Mariah Carey and Boys to Men Sweet Day.

  1. What’s the first thing you do when you begin writing for the day?
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Make sure there is food and iced coffee within arms reach.

  1. Who’s the first writer who truly inspired you to become a writer?

Don’t laugh. Don’t judge. Stephanie Meyer.

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  1. Did the final revision of your first book have the same first chapter it started with?

Oh, heck no!

  1. For your first book, which came first: major characters, plot or setting?

Oh, wow that was a while back. I’m pretty sure it was setting first though because I remember wanting to write this one scene and the next thing I knew I’d written a book. I’m not even sure I intended to do that. It just happened and that experience lead to what I do today.

  1. What’s the first word you want to roll off the tip of someone’s tongue when they think of your writing?

More!

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Holding my bowels, sketch pencils and recognizing Gateway Talents

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As I meet new artist I find we have one thing in common and if we don’t it’s only because they don’t know we have it in common yet. I hate generalizations as much as the next person but it is becoming exceedingly apparent to me that artists are artistic in general.  I had a pencil and a sketch pad in my hand from the moment I could voluntarily hold my bowels. I’ve always had an artist’s heart however I distinctly remember people complimenting  my work as a child and thinking, well, all I can really do is sketch. Just a few short years into MY THIRTIES brought me the courage I needed to try other things like painting, photography, playing the guitar and finally writing. They say nicotine is the gateway drug to the hard stuff. For me, a charcoal sketch pencil was my gateway to writing. I’m not saying I’m done with all the other “hobbies” (Oooo I hate that word. They are so much more than hobbies! Especially when they become lucrative.) I still do all of them regularly and they are a huge part of my life but I would have never found one without the other.

Perhaps you are an artist with a single talent, one thing you’re really good at, but you’ve somehow conned yourself into believing that is the only thing you can do.

Could I please oh, please give you some advice you didn’t ask for? Here are some things you can do to recognize where your Gateway Talents are taking you. But we’re going to have to start from the very beginning and what better way to preface this than with some adorable photos of a newborn I just snapped on a photo shoot a few weeks ago?

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NUMORO UNO:  You need to be comfortable in the saddle.

You are never ever, I mean never as in the discovery of the Fountain of Youth never or VHS tapes making a comeback never or gas being 99 cents a gallon ever again never, going to move out of your artistic comfort zone until you are comfortable calling yourself an artist. No matter your craft, albeit wood sculpting, poetry, mosaic or oil painting, if you can’t admit you’re an artist you will never move forward in that respect or any other.

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Number Two…What’s that? You need a second to take in the grossly adorable gaucho on the painted pony. I KNOW!  He is so cute. This picture was both fun and terrifying to take. Don’t worry. Mom is crouched behind the horse supporting him.

Okay, Number Two: Brace yourself for the ride.

Once you can admit you’re an artist don’t assume you will suddenly be endowed with skin as thick as armadillo’s hide and the confidence of a honey badger. (Wildly audacious beasts by the way. You must read up on them.) In the beginning, your heart will be crushed by rejection and equally bruised when people don’t get your work but there will be that moment where you’re like, “Oh my Mayonnaise! I don’t do this for them. I do it for me. I do it for the ones who DO get it.”  And that moment, my friend, will be like the relief you feel after having a baby. Don’t know what that feels like? Well, it’s a little like having an 18 wheeler removed off of your lungs and bladder. For the first time in what feels like a lifetime, you can take a deep breath but now you have this new creation in your hands. That’s what that moment feels like.

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Then there’s graduation. Granted it’s only from Kindergarten because as an artist you’re never going to arrive. There’s a reason for that. We won’t let ourselves. There will always be something more amazing we can create and we can’t rest until we try it.

What about you? Are you at Numoro Uno? Can you admit that you are an artist yet? Or perhaps you are moving on to the next Gateway Talent. What is it? Pray tell. Can’t wait to hear from you.

Agent/Author Etiquette

222221_10150272979930993_6771236_nYour phone chimes with that special notification that alerts you an agent has responded to one of your queries. (What? You don’t have an email account set up JUST for agent responses? You should! Just a tidbit: Did you know that there are many agencies that will boot out emails as spam from big free email groups like gmail, Hotmail and yahoo? But I digress…) So where were we? Oh yes the notifying chime! You hesitate to open it, knowing its just another rejection and you’re not in the mood today. After forcing yourself to look, you discover that….Holy Shmuckoly! It’s a full manuscript request.

After the initial lightheadedness and overall flushing of all your body parts you get right to work collecting your manuscript and reading over it one more time at lightening speed for any refining that needs to be done. You resist, with all that is in you, making major changes in the first three chapters and tell yourself now is no time for self doubt. Finally, you hit the SEND button followed by the strong urge to wretch. Oh, Lord was everything perfect?  If it’s not, too late now.

The rush of the whole experience lingers for a day or two and then the questions overtake you like a swarm of killer bees.

Questions1. How long should I wait before nudging?

A nudge is reserved for specific situations. An author should never use a nudge for a query submission. Most agents (if I were more daring I would say all agents) have information on their website that let submitters know how long they can wait for a reply. Some agents state upfront they will not respond to queries which do not interest them and that a no response can be considered a rejection. If an agency states that, after a lack of response within a certain amount of time, you can resubmit then do so but do not nudge.  In my opinion, it’s good practice to send your manuscript with a short respectful note inquiring about what sort of time frame you can expect to hear back from them. Generally they will reply with a time frame of about 6-8 weeks and give permission to follow up after that time period. Nudges should be used only when agents have requested your material and have exceeded the time they initially told you it would take to look at the work or an acceptable amount of time to review the MS.

2.What is the best way to follow up with an agent?

Again, dare I say all agents, prefer email. A simple reply to the initial request is sufficient via email. Then just find something to distract you for the next 6-8 weeks while they do their thing.Many agents have twitter accounts now that you can follow and they often host “Ask The Agent” forums where they answer FAQ’s by authors. Generally though, I wouldn’t inquire with an agent about a query on twitter. Use their email for that. Following agents on twitter can be informative, however. I follow agents on Twitter who post when they have made it through their query piles and that if you haven’t heard back from them to resubmit. So, if you have submitted a query to an agent, it’s a great idea to follow them on Twitter. I said FOLLOW, don’t stalk….that’s just pathetic and creepy.

3. Should I give an exclusive if asked?

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Exclusives should rarely be given. If authors granted exclusives every time we submitted we would be published at the ripe old age of 103. Now if an agent asks for an exclusive while reading your manuscript, and he/she is your DREAM AGENT,  it might be in your best interest if you only granted it for a short time period.  For instance, you might say I’ll grant exclusivity for 2 weeks in which I will not submit to, or make a commitment to, any other agents. This ensures a swift response for you and does not lock up your manuscript so that you miss out on an opportunity for representation by another agent in the process.

4. Why did the agent ask if other agents were considering my work?

Agents want to know if your work is being considered by other agents so they know how to place it in the slush pile. If you are being seriously considered by other agents then the agent might make an effort to look at yours sooner to avoid losing an opportunity to represent the novel. Make sure you don’t tell an agent your novel is being considered unless it truly is though. Integrity is a huge part of the relationship between author and agent and if you are eventually represented by the agent you don’t want that uncomfortable white lie coming between you.

5. Is it a bad thing if more than one agent is looking at my work?

Simple answer. No. Agents don’t hold it against you if your work is being looked at by other agents. That’s the nature of the business and it only shows you have an interesting story. Just be sure to COMMUNICATE WITH THE AGENTS! Tell them that your work is being considered by other agents so they can plan accordingly. And if you receive an offer of representation in the meantime, notify agents so they know to stop looking at your work OR to finish reviewing it so they have a shot at it too. It’s okay for you to tell an agent you need time to think and notify other agents that you are considering them for representation.

6. And finally, what if you send the manuscript along with a short message asking when you might hear back and after a week receive no response? Should you resend?

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What are you looking at me like that for? Oh! You think I have the answer. No, this question is for you! I’ve read  it is important to respond with a bold message in the subject line that says something about REQUESTED MANUSCRIPT. Of course, I read this after I sent the email and merely replied to the initial email. I have a tendency to over think things. Perhaps your thoughts on the issue will ease my mind. So take it away.

DO YOU KNOW YOUR GENRE?

386558_10150591178055993_62231348_nYou are a  door to door salesperson who sells vacuums. Finally, after months of having doors slammed in your face, a potential buyer stands in the doorway long enough to ask you a question. “What kind of vacuum is it?” You hem-haw and squirm because you really don’t know so you just spout off the most popular vacuum type you can think of. “It’s a zero-turn-radius, bagless, cyclone chamber with scented filters.” When really it’s one of those old models that looks like  a set of bagpipes. What does the potential client who you could have made enough off of to not  have to sell another vacuum for a whole month do? He slams the door in your face, of course.

Our manuscripts can be just as difficult to sell (not that any of or work is like a bagpipe vacuum cleaner, I should hope) and finding a genre our manuscripts fit into to market them can be even more difficult. However, without the proper packaging, you can have an amazing product but never move it off the shelf. Face it, most of us buy name brand just because it looks more trustworthy. It would be nice if we could just go without picking a genre and just let our work speak for itself  but in the world of publishing there is no such thing as No Genre Bob.

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The last writer’s conference I attended had a “Read the Slush Pile” event, as many do. Three agents sat on a panel while someone read the first five pages of our manuscripts to them. When they didn’t want to hear anymore they raised their hands and the reader ceased. Then the agents told why they would have stopped reading that particular piece if it were in their slush pile. It was very informative and helped me to better develop my first chapter. But one of the main reasons they stopped reading was when an author incorrectly billed a piece as a certain genre. At first I thought they were just being picky but they explained their reasons for this.

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The first reason was that a writer should know their genre. If they don’t, the agent can already see that working with this author may consume a little more time than they have available. The second reason why agents say writers bill their work as a genre that it is not, is because they are scared their work falls under a dead category and think if they bill it as something else it will seem more appealing. The fact is:

You have a better chance at getting an agent’s attention with your work under its true genre (even if the genre isn’t so hot right now) than you do if they start to read it and find out it’s not what you claimed it was-no matter how good your work is.

That doesn’t mean agents are uppity or snide. It just means that, like you and I, they like to get the product they are told they are getting. So, knowing your genre is the key. I remember flipping out when I heard the agents respond that way because I had pitches scheduled with them the following day and I wasn’t prepared to commit to a genre at that point. What would I do if they put me on the spot? I stayed up for hours in my hotel room researching different genres and comparing my story to others that have already been marketed under certain labels. It was hard because one of the agents I was pitching to wasn’t particularly fond of the category my manuscript seemed to be consistently falling into with my research. I had to be straight forward with her and she asked me to send her a partial!

There are some great resources out there for pinpointing your genre. 

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First, start by reading lists of genres and weed out the ones that don’t apply. Sometimes books fall into multiple categories like YA/Science Fiction/Romance, so  don’t try to narrow it down to just one yet. Make sure the list you are looking at is up-to-date. Some genres are called by different names than they used to be and there are new ones, like NA (New Adult), that are added to the list. Here are a few good lists to start with: List Of Fiction Genres and Bubble Cow’s Genre List. You may have to piece a few lists together to get a complete list. As you can see, NA is not even described on these lists yet because it is so new.

Then once you’ve narrowed it down to a few genres, start looking at books that are similar to yours. This is a good practice anyway because most agents are going to want you to compare your book to something that is already on the market. While most of us would like to think our book is one of a kind that’s not always a good thing. People like to read things similar to what they’ve already enjoyed. We naturally choose by comparison. So look at other books that compare to yours and see what genre they fit into.

It’s not an easy process. It’s like choosing a label for your child. You, young one, will forever be known as a…carpenter or psychologist or mother or construction worker. It’s tough stuff but we can do it! Anybody else out there struggle with labeling your baby?

You’re not a failure until you give up.

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Some of the smallest things can appear monumental. Five sentences. FIVE STINKIN’ SENTENCES. All I had to do was recite them with feeling and heaven knows I’d done it a million times before – to the kids, to my poor husband, my students, the school secretary. I looked into the eyes of the mock agent and….CHOKED. I laughed, then belittled my self and started over three times. The second interview only went half as bad and by the time I got to the third and the fourth I was feeling a little better but when I got home from the dinner party I was nauseous. What if that had been the real thing? WILL I DO THAT AT THE REAL THING? The awful scene kept rolling over in my head, even the next morning, until my phone started dancing across my desk with an update from a blog I subscribe to. One quote stood out to me:

Mistakes can refine us or define us. –Kristen Lamb

Oh, by the way that is my  little puppy in the photo taking on the toy dinosaur  I KNOW! She’s adorable. Anywho back to failure. We’ve all heard it before but it is truly, truly all about perspective. Now, I am so glad I went in and bombed it with the sweet people that took an hour or two out of their busy schedules to come hear this dreamer pitch her book, because now that I’ve fallen flat on my face, I know what NOT to do.
Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently. -Henry Ford
 My thoughts are my worst enemy. I psych myself out. I psych myself out about psyching myself out! So, when I got home that night I started thinking things like, “What are you trying to accomplish anyway? Why are you putting yourself through this?  Just bury it and walk away.”
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But  failure only happens when we quit. As long as we are trying, there is the potential for success in our future. I’m encouraged by what I learned from biting the big one the other night. It opened the door for me to improve so I can walk into the room with those agents next week with a totally new perspective.

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These moments in our journeys are the growing times and it’s all in how we perceive them. We can walk away saying, “Oh! I see exactly what I did wrong. I’m so glad I caught that so I can change it.” Or we can walk away saying, “I can’t believe I blew it like that.” I have to say I might still be wallowing in the latter stinking thinking if it weren’t for my husband, who isn’t afraid to point out the things that need working on because he knows I’m capable of knocking it out of the park. I can’t always see that but for now I’m going to take his word for it.
So, here’s what I’d love from you: advice. How do you stay out of your head in the moment? What do you do when you can feel that you’re losing your grip during a presentation? How do you just relax and tell your story to a perfect stranger? I’d love to hear from you!

Hey Batta-Batta Shwing! The Dreaded Pitch

The Agent Pitch

The Agent Pitch

Do you ever have those moments where you’re going about every day life and then it’s like you’re awakened to reality? I was driving down the road the other day and I looked through the rear view mirror into the back seat and I was like- WOE! There are three kids back there! When the Fuzzy French Fried Fritters did that happen? How did I get here? It’s like I woke up one morning and….BANG- fifteen years of marriage, three pregnancies, a couple of houses, a college education and two career changes just happened in a blur of fast forward motion. That’s sort of the way I feel about this whole writing thing. It’s like I woke up in a pile of manuscripts one day and realized I’d written two novels and don’t even remember doing it.  

The time has come in this strange and rapid journey to take the next step. I’ve queried my little heart out and attended some small writing conferences – all good steps toward building confidence as a writer- but now it’s time for something a little bigger….THE AGENT PITCH. That’s right, five minutes with a real live agent, make that three agents, to pitch my latest novel.     Am I nervous? Um, yeah, I’m nervous! I’m also giddy, excited and slightly nauseous – all the feelings one might get from bungee jumping. My biggest concern is that I don’t want to waste this opportunity. I want to be prepared. So I have been researching my average sized, slightly curvaceous fanny off to be prepared for what could possibly be five of the most important little minutes in my career as a writer. No pressure.

Here’s what I’ve done to be prepared: I’ve consulted with two very successful published authors about my pitch. One had me re-write it several times to make sure it was concise, SHORT, in close third person and that it remained in that tone throughout. Did I mention that it was short? One paragraph, that’s it. The other author recommended a short pitch line that compares the story to something the agent may be familiar with to catch their attention. Something like, The Titanic meets Twilight. Also, I’m holding a dinner party where I will pitch my book to random strangers, invited by a mutual friend. Finally, I’ve read pitches of familiar stories so I understand what information a pitch should include.

One great resource I found was found on Wow-womenwriting.com. It talks about how agents are people with dreams of making it big too. They come to writer’s conferences with the same hopes that we do: selling books. This site explains what agents dislike about the way author’s handle themselves at conferences. They realize that not all writers are good speakers but become very uncomfortable when someone shakes and cries while trying to pitch a book. Oh, please don’t let me shake and cry…PLEASE! They suggest heavily that authors practice their pitch and don’t decide to change it at the last minute. One of my favorite quotes from the blog was this:

“I wish writers would see the agents more as an equal—when there’s too much desperation in the writer’s eyes, agents tend to de-value them. If a writer is confident, I know that they don’t need me so much as we need each other.”

Maybe you’ve attended a pitch session recently. How did it go? Did you get positive feed back? Representation? Do you have advice for this bungee jumper on her first decent? I’d love to hear from you.

You Might Be A Writer If

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I don’t know about you but when I started this whole journey I was a little embarrassed about it. I was even sensitive talking about it with my husband who has been completely supportive since day one. I thought that people wouldn’t take me seriously, that they would think my ideas of grandeur were nonsensical – a waste of time and believe me writing takes time. Lots and lots of time. Time you would normally use sleeping, going to the mall, exercising or conversing on some type of social networking media.  It took a while, not to take myself seriously because I knew that I wanted to do this, but for me to know that it was okay for other people to take this seriously. One thing that really encouraged me was reading about other authors and the way they described themselves. As I read I realized, hey, that’s me! So if you’re wondering if you are a true writer at heart or if this is just a temporary whim that you are experiencing this might help. 

You might be a writer if: 

You write in your sleep.

Your friend has a baby and you write his name down for a future character in your next novel.

You’d rather write than sleep.

You sometimes have trouble distinguishing between fiction and reality. 

You are constantly looking for elements in your life that identify with the current story you’re writing.

Your friends smile and nod as you talk non-stop about editing your query and the next conference your going to.

You are more excited about going to the children’s literature festival than your children are.

You  get goosebumps and butterflies when you meet a real live published author and suck them dry for any tidbit of advice they can offer. 

You’ve become a hermit.

Your best friends are imaginary. 

You have a tingling sensation in your hands from writing too often.

You try things just so you can write about them. 

You are starving for criticism just so you can get better.

You’re determined that, even if it takes until you’re 108, you will continue working on your writing until it’s published!

Perhaps you identify with most of these. If so, you might just be a real, bonified writer! Please share some of your own, “You might be a writer ifs…”