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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.









To Comp or not to Comp that is the Question

If you’re a twin or a sibling or a human in general you have probably experienced being compared to someone else. Comparisons can be flattering but, for the most part, people like to stand alone.

We don’t always like being compared. 

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In the writing world, sometimes comparisons are necessary. If you’ve queried for very long, you’ve probably asked your self this question: Should I add a comp to my query? If you haven’t, you may be wondering, what the Hector Zaroni is a comp? A comp is when an author makes a comparison of their work using other familiar works of literature, theater, television or big screen titles. An example would be Spiderman meets PRIDE AND PREDJUDICE (Oooo! I kind of want to write that.) Or modern day David and Goliath (Oh man…I’m going to need more than one Christmas vacation. So many books to write.) Or you can put genre or category twists on common stories like Steam Punk Cinderella or New Adult Charlie Brown. The possibilities are endless.

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Why create a comp? Because, done well, it’s like a picture for agents. Comps speak a thousand words. Creating a comp can be a risky move because if the agent dislikes the comps, your MS could be discarded before the agent even gets to the sample writing. Another thing that makes comping difficult is choosing your comps. It can be like comparing your child to someone else’s. Obviously, you love yours more so it’s better, right? And what if your story doesn’t seem to fit any other story perfectly and when you meld stories it ends up looking a little like this:

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Or what if your comp titles aren’t really spot on and it ends up like this:

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That’s not really what you were going for was it?

Done well, comps are like a picture for agents. They speak a thousand words.

Many agents say they love comps. I’ve noticed lately that several of the query contest winners I’ve seen used intriguing comps. Comps can be very useful if done correctly. A good rule to live by, however, is if you don’t feel comfortable making the comp, then avoid it. But if you think a comp could beef up your query or perhaps the agent you query asks for comps (there are a few out there) then here are some helpful tips for creating great comps for your query:

Comp Do’s and Don’ts

DO read a lot so that you have more comp options.

DO try to stay away from comparing your writing to hot fad reads like Twilight that agents might be burnt out on.

DON’T compare your writing style to successful writers i.e. “I’m the next Nicholas Sparks.”

DO only make comps that help the agent understand your plot. Comps are not to show the agent your book is as good as the comp title you’re comparing it to. It’s to help them understand the plot.

DO your research. Maybe there are some great comps out there that will do your title justice. Research stories that have elements that compare to yours.

DON’T worry that your comp isn’t identical to your story. The idea is not to find the something exactly the same but something that compares. That’s why finding two stories to comp like Batman meets Jurassic Park helps to cover more of the elements in your story. Make sure the major ingredients of the story are parallel then make the comparison.

What are some comps that you’ve made? Did they work? What are other Do’s and Don’ts you can suggest for making comps?