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!

A Formula For Best Sellers?

I’m #blessed. No for real. Thanks to the lovely Natalie C. Parker, author of BEHOLD THE BONES, I’ve been connected with some lovely  FAN-STINKIN-NOMENAL (it’s a word now) authors who are in the same stage of agented writing as myself.

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Novels by the wonderful Natalie C. Parker


This group of girls bonded almost instantly. We now refer to ourselves as the YAAMY Bears — it’s a yam thang — and find ourselves posting yam memes and GIFs at random. But best of all, we are sharing our journeys. This stage of writing can be awkward and lonely because you’re not sharing the same path with authors seeking representation anymore, but you’re not a published author either. Natalie has given us a tribe, shoulders to cry on, people to celebrate with, and I think I can speak for everyone in the group when I say…

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All that being said, I found myself typing out this long message to the girls on one of our many forums at 2:30 in the morning. It’s been on my mind since then, so I thought I’d see what you thought. Is there a formula for a best seller?

Writing the secret formula
I went to MidWest Writers this summer and attended a wonderful session on how to edit a best seller, and here’s what I took away from it:

The conference speaker talked about plot beats which, at the time, I knew nothing about. So, for those of you who were like me, beats are like the rhythm of a song. It’s steady, then it crescendos then it resolves. There is a common rhythm or set of beats found in nearly all the bestseller and blockbuster movies and the formula goes like this:

1. Slice of Life – This is where you start. You give the reader a sense of who the MC is, where they are from and what is meaningful to them. This can happen in the first few words. It can also occur over the course of a few pages. Giving your MC little obstacles to overcome (even big ones, though you don’t generally want to jump in with too much heart pounding action until the reader knows why they should care about the character) helps the reader to get a feel for how they react to things. Do they fume at traffic jams or are they chill? Do they cuss when they stub their toe? That kind of thing.

2. Inciting Incident – What is the thing that starts the sweater to unraveling (Oh Geez! Weezer’s sweater song is in my head now!) But IDENTIFY IT. Call it by name, for your own benefit. This helped me so much just to know what this was, because then I knew where it should fit in my MS.

3. Act 2 – Decision Time: This is when your MC has to make a decision about that Inciting Incident. Are they going to run away from home, get a divorce, find a new job? BUT in most best sellers, the FIRST response to that decision is no. No, I’m not going to do what I should, or what’s hard, or what makes sense. This helps build tension and sets pace! Then give it time and resolve it so your MC can be on his or her merry way with the plot.

4. Establish Flaws – This is where we see that the MC maybe doesn’t have it all together and isn’t quite as perfect as we all thought she was. You don’t have to give everything away, but maybe we start seeing some weaknesses or some unlikable things here. This way we’ve given the reader a chance to fall in love with the MC before we show her butt. Sort of like in dating and marriage. LOL This is also a great place to trickle in clues if you are dealing with an unreliable character.

5. Fun and Games – This is where I struggle, because I write such dark stuff. I don’t know how this bubbly preacher’s kid turned Edgar Allan Poe but whatevs. (P.S. if you write humor PLEASE do a post on that!) Anywho, fun and games doesn’t have to be bubbly or even funny, but this is where your romance typically happens. Your MC discovers they are in love. Or, if there is no romance, some of the lighter things in the novel are happening here. This is all for build and pace. Your chugging up the hill of that roller coaster, about to give your readers that my-stomach-just-fell-into-my-shoes feeling.

6. Mid-Point – This is the middle of your story. I know, deep, right? Things are starting to pull together and come to a head.

7. Bad Guys Close In – This is where your MC is getting backed into a corner by some situation or protagonist. They’re feeling a little hopeless here.

8. All is Lost – Giving your MC a situation they can’t possibly get out of is a pretty big theme in best sellers. There’s no way this can end up good for anyone as far as the reader can tell.

9. Dark Night of Soul – Things are moving quickly now. Your character recognizes that without sacrificing, there is no way out of this situation. Or maybe they don’t recognize it, but the reader does. This takes on all forms. In Jerry MaGuire, his career is on the line, in Twilight (forgive me) it’s Edward or Jacob, or Renesmee, or herself or Edward. Your MC can linger here for a moment to help solidify for the reader the stakes that are at risk. Remember this takes on so many different forms. Your story may be man against nature, or man against community. It still fits.

10. Climax — This is where the volcano explodes. The battle scene, the escape, the divorce, the throw down. The ugly.

11. Closing Image – Here’s your resolution, and my favorite: Bookends. This is where you take a theme that you started the book with, and you end with it. You give your reader a sense of closure with a profound idea, a loose end or a phrase used earlier and trickled throughout the book. In Jerry MaGuire it was a phrase: You complete me. In Twilight it was the theme that Edward could never read Bella’s thoughts and then she allowed him to.

For Pacing: The speaker suggested asking a beta reader to put a note in every place they got pulled away from reading to do something else by anything other than an earthquake or medical emergency. Those are probably your places where the book lulls. She suggested giving the character a minor conflict in those areas that doesn’t muddle up the plot or add too many new elements to the theme. It can be something she is already dealing with that happens to raise it’s ugly head again.

Also another REALLY  interesting resource is the Plot Library. Apparently, there are only like a few plots out there since the beginning of time and every story can fit into one of these plot lines. I thought it was fun to look through them and see which one my book and my favorite books fit into!

Is there really a formula for a best seller? Who knows. Most will agree that, like any art form, there’s no right or wrong way to write a book. But, that being said, even as an artist, I need to know how shading works. I need to know that if I’m trying to paint realism, if that’s my goal, then if the sun is on the right side of an object, the shadows will only be on the left side. This is a guide. It helped me organize my writing and identify the pieces that WERE ALREADY THERE! I don’t necessarily use this until I’m in the editing process. I don’t hold to this formula while I’m writing. I use it to sort it out afterwards. Maybe organized writing is the key to a best seller, maybe it’s something else entirely, but identifying these spots in my writing helps ME better understand it. I hope you can get something out of this too.

Typings by a Type A

I’ve always thought of myself as a type B. I’m not a sports fanatic like my husband who somehow turns everything into in a competition. i.e. Who can make the best smoked chicken? Who can peel an orange without breaking the rind? Who can make it home from work the fastest? Even a ballgame is no fun for him to watch unless we’ve put a wager for a back rub on it. Nope, I’m the girl who wants everyone to get a trophy. I cheat for the other guy in card games so he doesn’t feel bad about losing. My face doesn’t turn beet-red if my team isn’t winning. I don’t shake my fist at the ref when the call is idiotic. So, I’m not type A, right?

But what I hadn’t thought of was how competitive I am with myself, especially as a writer. Or how I tell everyone else to enjoy the process of writing while they wait for their big moment but I maintain a vicious inner drill sergeant toward my own expectations. I don’t pit myself against other writers but I do make serious goals for myself that become life altering and massively mourned if not met and epically celebrated if achieved. I’m not status-conscious, however there are certain titles I sweat and bleed to own, namely PUBLISHED AUTHOR. There is, however, one thing I’ll admit to being and that’s achievement-addicted. Finishing a manuscript is my bungee jump, getting a full request is my sky diving.

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(Sky diving elephants seemed appropriate here.)

One source described a type A as someone who works late hours to get things accomplished. But that’s just because I have a day job in addition to writing books…isn’t it? And someone who rushes around, seemingly never having enough time in the day to get things done. But I only do that because I’m an introvert who’s uncomfortable with too much eye contact…right?

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The list goes on. Type A behavior can lead to stress because these people try to do everything themselves and eventually become overloaded. They aren’t always the best team players and rarely delegate work to others. They can sometimes seem non-empathetic because they hold everything in which can lead to a whole other psychological and physical ball of wax. ALL RIGHT! ALL RIGHT I GET IT ALREADY! Where do I go for my label?

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What kind of a writer/person are you? Here’s a list of questions to ask yourself from PsychologyToday.com

(Affirmative responses suggest Type A personality)

• Are you pressed for time at and after work?

• Do you always take work home with you?

• Do you eat rapidly?

• Do you have a strong need to excel?

• Do you have trouble finding time to get your hair cut/styled?

• Do you feel or act impatient when you have to wait in line?

Hostility-related items:

• Do you get irritated easily?

• Are you bossy and domineering?

• When you were younger was your temper fiery and difficult to control?

If the answer to most of these is yes for you, here’s a positive to dwell on: type As are more successful, which means those goals that mean so much to you, that drive you will likely be met. But one thing the Bs have on us As is that they’re better at enjoying the moment. So, while they may have fewer successes, they truly cherish the one’s they achieve. I’ve seen this with so many of my accomplished writerly friends who finally make it. They have the trophy. They’ve arrived, yet the fireworks and the parade and the ticker tape I expected to see in their lives gets put on hold as they push for the next target. Another encouraging part of this study by PsychologyToday.com revealed that most people are not 100% A or B but we do lean toward one side or the other. When we see that our A side is taking over, we As just need to make our goal to enjoy the moment because whatever we set our minds to, we eventually achieve.

Blackwater Literature Festival

3f BW Lit festOn March 11th, 2015 the sun rose over a small rural town in mid-Missouri just as it always did but a certain energy reverberated in the air and it wasn’t the train passing on the all-too-close tracks at the edge of town. It was excitement.

The energy only increased as buses full of students and teachers from five different school districts rumbled past the carved sculpture of an Indian chief on main street and beyond the windmill in the center of the square. The bus doors hissed open and seemingly endless lines of nearly two-hundred and fifty students poured into the halls of Blackwater RII Elementary and Middle School for the Blackwater Literature Festival.

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They filled the bleachers and when they were full, the lunchroom tables and when they were full the floor. This was the day they’d been waiting for. In rooms so close it was unbearable, five authors were waiting to tell their stories, to give hugs, to answer questions and to inspire.

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Two-hundred and fifty students were waiting to meet their role models. Some of them had already read their books, some of them couldn’t wait to start.

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The signal was given and they were off. For the next four hours, they transitioned from room to room visiting , listening to readings from their favorite books, entering writing contests, asking questions and, of course, taking selfies with the authors! As the day progressed, conversations in the halls could be heard. Students were discussing which were their favorites and what books they planned on buying.  Some students even brought activities they’d done while reading the books to show the authors.

When the sessions were finished, the authors hosted book signing tables where students and teachers could purchase the books and have them signed by the authors. Copies of all the author’s books were entered into the Blackwater RII school library where they will be added to the computerized reading program the students participate in. All in all, the Blackwater Literature Festival was a day students won’t soon forget. Authors Ashlee Willis, Casey Wendelton, William Vaughn, Judy Stock and Linda Runnabaum as well as directors of the Marshal Public library, Wicky Slieght and Molly Johnson, will certainly also cherish the memory.









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.

 

The Multiple Personalities of an Author

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THE HAPPY WRITER

On so many occasions I‘ve as asked  my writerly friends on this path of pursuing traditional publication why we put ourselves through this whole torturous obstacle course. Is it some sort of deep rooted need to punish ourselves or twisted masochism that makes us continue?

I don’t know about you, but I experience emotional ebbs and flows toward my writing. It can be the result of a rejection or from reading something that is so magnificent it makes all my work pale in comparison. These emotional ups and downs are fairly common/natural, however they can affect our work.

When we start feeling insecure, it effects the quality and quantity of our scribblings. It’s usually a good idea to take a break from writing when experiencing a valley. I’ve tried to push through and be productive during these times and it usually ends up in a lot of re-writing later. The trick is not letting these pity parties last too long so they don’t effect the quantity of our writing. Many times, we wait so long to get back into “the mood” that we lose momentum in our stories. When it’s been too long, try to find a good quality in your story and build on that. It may mean re-writing and making some plot changes but this approach has resulted in some of my best story lines.

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The Peaceful Writer

Writing Gives Me Multiple Personalities. 

THE PEACEFUL WRITER

Despite the valleys, there are times in the journey that are pleasant. My favorite times are the times of peaceful writing. I’m convinced that most writers are users. They use writing to obtain peace. They love the euphoric sensation of  being swept away to another world – away from their own responsibilities and problems, even if the main character’s problems are worse than their own. While anything can be abused, with balance, pouring oneself into a story, feeling the emotions of the characters and finding creative ways to work out their problems (which often times emulate your own), can’t be all that bad.

 

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THE CARE FREE WRITER

 

THE CARE FREE WRITER

The care free part of me likes to write just for the sake of writing. This is usually in the early parts of a manuscript when I’m just trying to get the story on paper. My fingers fly and the story flows out of me as fluidly as coffee from the carafe, which is typically consumed in high quantities during this stage. I’m not worried about flow or transitions or overuse of adverbs or world building or character descriptions. It’s all about regurgitating the plot. This is a fun time to write for authors. That excitement and passion for our story is there and so is our faith in it.  We know its value. We know it has potential. I’ve been on the roller coaster enough times however, to know the rush I get from being on the peak doesn’t last but that never keeps me from screaming all the way down.

 

It’s these manic episodes, these ebbs and flows, that result in the final product. 

 

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THE DRIVEN WRITER

THE DRIVEN WRITER

Once the story has taken shape and I’ve read over it and made it through the valley of I-Hate-It and the trenches of This-is-Crud, I eventually find myself in the plains of I-Can-Work-With-This. This is when I hit hard. I get a few critic partners to look at it for me and I devour every word they have to say. Then I cut the fat, slash the ramblings, polish the descriptions, obliterate the adverbs and capture the voice…at least those are my goals. I have gone through the full cycle multiple times, from Happy Writer to Driven Writer and back again, during the course of editing a single manuscript. Don’t feel sorry for me though. It’s these manic episodes, these ebbs and flows, that result in the final product.  I endure the multiple personalities of writing, BECAUSE I can’t settle for a mediocre product.

What about you? What are the names for your writing personalities. Come on, you know you have them too!

 

 

 

 

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?

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?

MOVE ME NOW OR I’M MOVING ON

45844_482113340992_6896901_nI’m supposed to impress you in these first few words with shocking, dazzling prose that will wreck your heart and send laughter spilling out of you like Niagara so you’ll keep reading. Have I done it? If I haven’t by now, chances are, I’ve already lost you as a reader.

Ooo! You just folded your arms up onto your chest, pursed your lips and scowled didn’t you? No need to pout like that. It’s not going to change the fact that you have one chance and a few characters to impress the judges. Think of it as the Twitter post of your lifetime.

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I was reading at  AndyRossAgency.wordpress.com  and here is what he had to say about making your first paragraph count.

If your first paragraph is characterized by clunky style, pretentious and flowery figures of speech, clichés, literary throat clearing, descriptions of the weather, clumsy efforts to shoehorn backstory into the narrative,  or other stylistic bads, it’s going to take a lot of brilliant writing to dispel that first impression.

I automatically began examining my own writing after reading this quote.

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  • Clunky style– Does my first paragraph read smoothly? Are there sentences that have to be read over again so they can be understood.
  • Pretentious and flowery figures of speech- Does my work have an overabundance of phrases like: The grandiloquence of this discourse nauseates my very soul; if ever a soul could be sickened by such foul text. Sometimes we become very attached to statements like this in our writing because we work so hard on developing them. The fact is people don’t talk like this and while a profound statement here and there is thought provoking, too many can just seem heady and arrogant. Make sure your writing is something people can identify with at the same time as being beautiful and stimulating to the mind.
  • Clichés- Just know what they are and AVOID THEM. You are a talented writer. Surely, you can come up with a better way of saying it.
  • Literary throat clearing– Empty words  and phrases, as well as repetitive descriptions can slow down our stories and cause people to stop reading. (Check out OneWildWord.com for some great pointers on cutting our literary throat clearings.)
  • Descriptions of the weather: Again, just don’t do it. If we talk about the weather when we’re bored out of our minds or when we’re trying to avoid real conversations with people then the topic does not belong in our writing.
  • Clumsy efforts to shoehorn backstory into the narrative- we’ve all read a book where the entire first chapter was used to catch us up on everything the main character has thought or eaten and the consistency of their bowel movements for the last 16 years. These are sometimes things we need to know, however there is a method to getting the information on paper in a way the reader doesn’t even know they are getting it. As writers, we must master this art.

As an author, I want to write  moments that rip the reader’s hearts out, make them throw the book across the room then walk back over to pick it up and read more. I want to write humor that surprises the reader. No lead up, no warnings, just outrageous unexpected humor that people can identify with in their own lives. You and I have to indicate we can do these things in the first few paragraphs in order to get a chance to share our work with the world.

How do you catch a reader’s attention, whether it’s an agent or fan? Do you use these techniques outside of your writing?