Things are different now, and things are the same.

I remember thinking that when I got an agent magic would take over my world. Words would roll out of my fingers like ocean waves. Revisions would feel like a casual stroll rather than a marathon. People would line up at my door to read my beautiful, beautiful words.

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Let me be clear. It HAS been magical. And words DO come. And on occasion, people do like to read the tales I spin. But mostly… mostly, writing now is like writing then.

Hard. Beautiful. Gut-wrenching. Satisfying. Revealing.

Hard

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It’s still hard writing, post-agent. But sometimes for different reasons. I never had writers block before getting an agent. Never. Hate me if you will, but usually I had a hundred stories lined up in my head, waiting for a little attention. There is a mind switch that happens when you start writing for another reason. Revisions start to take priority, and you don’t let your mind wander as often, because you know it’s only a matter of time before you have to revisit that last story either for an R&R or to polish it up for submission. Sometimes the creative whiplash that occurs from jumping from world to world too often is just too much, so you just don’t write between stints of waiting on feedback on revisions. I’m not saying this is a good thing. I’m just saying it happens.

Beautiful 

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It’s still beautiful. Though I don’t get to create freely as often anymore, those moments when the story is taking shape and the characters are speaking… well, you know how it feels. It’s the first gaze into your newborn’s eyes. It’s a dive off the top of a roller coaster. It’s a plunge into icy water. It’s exhilarating and just plain beautiful. Thank goodness, that still happens.

Gut-wrenching

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You still have to wait, post-agent. And waiting can be so hard. Waiting while you know someone is reading your work. Waiting while you wonder if you sent your very best, if you could have sweat a little harder, bled a little more to make it better. Waiting, hoping, praying for good news. Yes, even after getting an agent, writing is still gut-wrenching.

Satisfying

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There’s nothing, before or after getting an agent, that is more deeply gratifying than typing those two final words: The. End. It doesn’t matter how many times you do it, it just satisfies this deep, deep part of you that no one else but another writer understands. For me, editing can be almost as satisfying. It feels like clay taking shape under my fingers. The features come into view, start looking back at me with these life-like eyes, and I stare back at them and go, “Holy something… I made that!”

Revealing

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Writing has always been revealing for me, but something about this stage of writing has caused the process to reveal more of my inner self than I could have imagined. Over the past year, writing has been so intensely introspective, a reflection of my values, my brokenness and my strength. I’ve dug deeper and looked harder than ever before. It’s been surprising. And it’s forced growth.

So yes, things have changed in the past year, and no, they haven’t. Writing is the same and it’s oh, so different. It’s still all the things I love and hate. And I wouldn’t change that for the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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?

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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.

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.