Saturday, September 19, 2015

Ma'am, please step away from the manuscript...

Writers love to write. Shocker, right? 

I’m not talking about how I ‘love’ to get a coffee in the morning, or how I ‘love’ to go out to dinner on occasion. I’m talking about huge amounts of endorphin being released when I’m holed up, left to my own weird creative devices for hours on end. I’m talking about having no sense four hours have passed without once glancing at the clock, feverishly typing and/or staring blankly, and that I should probably stretch my legs for a bit. It’s magical, and—as my husband can happily attest—I’m giddy and in an uber good mood.


There comes a time when the magic is just as imaginary as the world I’ve created and I wonder if I’ll ever get that feeling again. Usually this head-meet-keyboard moment happens in the thick of a tough draft or revision, when my mind is gnawing on a story problem like a wild beast on a bloody carcass. No finesse. Just a gory, ripped apart story that gives no indication it was once a graceful gazelle of words. I’m harried to get to the answer, so I can back to the magic.

That’s one of the moments when I remind myself to step away. Or I don’t remember to remind myself at all, I just do it, because my other options involve destruction of personal property. My own property… don’t worry. Other times, the need to step away is immediately after completion of a revision or draft.

At first, it stepping away feels like cheating the process. It feels like quitting and giving up and rolling over to show my tummy to a predator and other things that are pretty much anathema to me.
The initial tearing away of me from the manuscript has run the gamut of emotion between ‘thank-God-I-can’t-look-at-that-crap-another-second’ to ‘my-poor-baby-she-needs-me-she-needs-me.’ I have had times where I wanted to look at it again, but knew it was like Pandora playing peek-a-boo. Bad, bad idea.

Writers need time away. Plain and simple. The time away could be any number of things. Could be just time away from that book, but starting another. Could be researching agents to query for that book. Could be not looking at a keyboard at all. *shrugs* It’s what you need, in that moment. I’ve done all three of those things, at various points. They are all productive and okay uses of time. Even the doing nothing. I’ll say it again for my inner Type-A…even doing nothing is okay.

This concept of time away has been taught in many seminars and conferences I’ve attended. A question I’ve heard asked, then, the follow up, is, ‘how long away?’ Great question, complicated answer.

It’s fair to say I’ve been writing some version of Pledge of Ashes since I was about thirteen. It’s my first story, in some ways, the one that never left me, the one I feel compelled to tell. My abilities with craft at thirteen (despite doing a paid correspondence course with a Writer’s Digest mentor) were, um, limited.

As I went through my teens, then my twenties, I would return to the book at various times. Pull it out, read it. Laugh. Cry. Then, sometimes, take another stab at it.  Until sometime in 2011 when I read it again and decided…now. I would take this thing seriously and get to it.

I honestly have no idea how many times I’ve stepped away since then. I can’t tell you the real number of days or weeks or months that worked. Only that, yes, sometimes it was days. Sometimes weeks or even months. I have noted, the more skilled I have become with craft, the less time it seems to take to feel ready to take on the project again. Skill, and the depth to which the revision took me. The harder the revision, the longer I needed to recoup.

I’ve come to think of stepping away from our manuscripts as very akin to the sleep cycle. Sometimes we want badly to sleep, but we keep our eyes peeled open, because, for some reason, we really need to stay awake. Sometimes we don’t want to sleep, we’re too jazzed.  Sometimes we feel lazy because we want a nap.

But the best sleep comes when we recognize we need the rest, and then we take it. No guilt, no internal recriminations. We give ourselves permission to lie down, put our head on a pillow, and not think or work or plot. That, too, can be magical.

Sometimes, that’s when we have the best dreams.

So, go ahead, take a step away. Rest. Before you fall over.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Head Meet Keyboard...Ruminations on Revision

Recently my husband said one of either the funniest or most devastatingly sad things I have ever heard him utter. When he asked, ‘how’s the book going’, I answered, as I have answered for probably the hundredth time, “I’m revising.”

My husband, whom I love dearly, looks genuinely confused and says, “I thought you did that already.”

Ha. Hahah. Hahahahahah—devolving into sobs.

My face must’ve looked incredibly odd, because my emotions immediately went into a brutal tug of war. One side, ready to laugh uproariously, like that was the funniest thing I’ve ever heard, the other side ready to crawl into the life-size hole my dogs have dug to access the underside of our deck, and crawl inside never to be seen again.

Yes, again, I’m revising. Again.

And I am under no illusions whatsoever I am done. My manuscript is just getting ready to be submitted to publishers, I’m still approximately the sun and earth distance away from holding a copy of my book in my own, greedy, keyboard-palsied hands.

I’m half-way okay with that.

Halfway, because, let’s be honest, holding a word mountain of your own creation in paper form is a moment of supreme pride. You’ve created something that has never existed before, used your complex frontal cortex to weave imagery and characters and plot. The act of creation…there’s nothing like it.

But the other half of me knows and accepts I am new to this. If I ever want to present more word mountains to the world and expect the world to ask me for more word mountains, this particular word mountain needs to be totally, and without reserve, kick ass. Which means making it as good as it can get, heeding the advice of the community of people who are trying to help me get there-- my freelance editor, my betas, my CPs, my agent, and hopefully, one day, my editor.

It takes a village to make a mountain.

 Or something.

Anyway. Probably the most important thing I’ve learned about revision is this: it’s not all uphill. Every change you make won’t *necessarily* make it better. Probably worse than any rejection I’ve received is the feeling of putting in tons and tons of work into a revision, reading it, and feeling abject horror at what you’ve done to your baby.

It happens. Been there.

There is a gift in all this. Not like a Christmas morning gift, complete with instant gratification. No, it's more like the super special vacation around the world that you will take one day, that you spend years readying yourself for, that you hold gently in your best daydreams. It's a gift like that.

Each revision makes us better. Better, because we did something genuinely awesome, marginally better, or because we learned something to never do again. Either way, revision makes you a better, more polished, more experienced, more efficient writer. Possibly even more than actually writing the word mountain in the first place. After all, not all mountains are the same. There's landfills, and there's the majesty of the Rockies.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Swimming with the big fishies... Dear Pitchwars 2015 Mentees

First, let me say to everyone who had the stones to enter Pitchwars in the first place…

And now let me say…

I get it. The waiting, the worry, and for those of you picked, the shock and awe.

Last year, when I was picked by the incredibly amazing Kara Leigh Miller, I was all like…

Seriously. I didn’t think I stood a chance. There were talented people trying to get into Pitchwars. One my CP’s entered and she rocks. People who have been at this for a while, really clever, crafty people. Then there was me. I entered, crossed my fingers and tried to forget about it. I was over the moon when Kara asked to see more, but still, no hope raising here.

I didn’t stay up with baited breath for the midnight reveal. I woke up in the morning with groggy eyes and probably a little bit of drool, and reached over to my phone (pathetic, I know) but not because I was anxiously awaiting the Pitchwars reveal of who was picked. Nope. *grins manically to hide shame* I had so little faith with my MS amid the stiff competition of Pitchwars, I didn’t even realize the reveals had happened.

*clears throat*

So, when I saw my Twitter feed had blown up, I was confused. I stumbled out of bed with scrunched up forehead, wondering why ‘congratulations’ was all over my phone. Maybe I was an alternate? The idea had my adrenaline pumping. 

But no.

Not an alternate.

Mentee. Whaaaaat—    

So, if you are reeling from all the digital hooting and hollering, hear me when I say, “I totally feel you.”

But get over it. This is a tremendous opportunity, and while having a mentor is a big part of the opportunity, you are the bigger part. Revel in the confidence being picked should give you. Take it to heart, believe you will soon have the best MS ever, and GET TO WORK.

A large group of us 2014 alums have stayed in contact and you would not believe me if I told you our stats. Many, many of us have landed agents (including me!) and I barely have enough fingers to cover all the book deals (not me yet.)

I don’t know the official stats, but I do know that most of us who got agented didn’t directly  come from Pitchwars. Mine didn't. But the draft of my MS that got me my agent definitely came from Pitchwars. (Thank you once again, Kara!)

So my advice? Envision Pitchwars as this professional grade diving board into the deep end of the pool where the big kids play.  

That’s where you are. Right now.

Take a breath. Dive in.

Your mentor can help you swim.

My wish for all of you selected this year is to have a great experience. You may or may not get requests. You may or may not have a perfect relationship with your mentor. You may or may not have the time you want to work on your MS. All true.

Also true...

But you have someone to help you now. Someone to share the burden and prevent you from drowning.

Swim, baby!

Check out the blog entries below with my awesome Pitchwars 2014 peeps for more inspiration and brass tacks advice on how to make Pitchwars the incredible experience it should be!

Amanda Rawson Hill: On Doubt and Hope
Jennifer Hawkins: Last year at this time, I was you…
K. Kazul Wolf: Congrats on getting further into the insanity…
Tracie Martin: What No One Tells the PitchWarrior
RuthAnne Frost: 2014 Pitch Wars Mentee here, looking to offer…
Rosalyn Collings Eves: Most of you are probably sick with dread…
Peggy J. Sheridan: Welcome to the club…
Janet Walden-West: The Long Game
Destiny Cole: Yup, I’m talking to you…
Kelly DeVos: Confessions of a PitchWars Alternate
Mary Ann Marlowe: First things first…
Mara Rae: I’m going to keep it short and sweet…
Jen Vincent: Last year, on a complete whim…
Kip Wilson: Congratulations, lucky mentees…
A. Alys Vera: PitchWars is great, don’t get me wrong…

Monday, August 17, 2015

Insecurity is Part of the Process

There is something a little off about writers. I mean, we do this thing, where we put words on paper and then share them with people. There is always a piece of us in the words. So that sharing, that giving of our words to others, it’s a little bit like baring your soul to strangers and hoping for the best. It’s probably why developing a ‘thick skin’ is something established writers are always telling the newbies. Best to learn early, before your heart gets trampled beyond repair and you burn your manuscript in a sad closure ritual.

You might be tempted to think that writers are naturally a thick-skinned bunch. Why else would they be drawn so moth/flame-like to this perpetual rejection cycle? I think it’s actually the opposite of that. We can be a truly insecure bunch.

I have the honor of having met quite a few writers now (virtually and otherwise…Table of Trust shout-out!), and I’m including the unpublished ones in that heap, too. Those perhaps more than any other.  For myself, I’m realizing I have an uncomfortable relationship with this whole insecurity thing. And I think most other writers, aspiring, agented, and published, feel pretty much the same.

There is this really long, really harsh reality of trying to becoming a traditionally published author now. Last year was different, and next year is likely to be different, too. Forget getting published, the reality is finishing the damn book is hard enough. Like, really hard. Probably why so many people want to do it, looking misty-eyed into the distance. “I want to write a book!” Sure. Like so many people want to complete a marathon, just to put the 26.2 sticker on their SUV, like a badge of glory.

Writing a book seems so hard. Newsflash: it is hard. It’s an indeterminate number of hours, days, months, for many, even years of putting words on a page. Not just any words. Words that mean something, coalesce into a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a story which means something. Characters we care about, plots that make sense. Not boring your reader to tears. Revising until you want to puke because you’ve read that chapter Eighty. Million. Times. But it still doesn’t seem perfect.

But then, you figure out that this thing might be good, someone else might enjoy reading this. Heck, maybe the masses should read this thing. Then you start the next phase. Making sense of what’s going on in publishing these days. Which tomorrow, could be different from two weeks ago. Seriously, it’s that intense right now. It doesn’t take you long to figure out you’ll need an agent. An agent, not a publisher. Because most of the big houses and even mid sized publishers don’t take unagented work. And not just any agent. Someone who reps your genre, someone who’s good, but not closed to queries or only accepts submission by referral. And you probably need to nail down several dozen of those individuals, easy, because, well, you have to convince them they want you instead of the hundreds of other writers who are doing the exact same thing.

If you cringed just now, well, let’s just say, I get it. There are days where the enormity of the task is overwhelming. Now imagine going through the agenting process, complete with an indeterminate number of revisions… again, this time in search of an amenable publisher, negotiating a contract, all that.

You can imagine the opportunities for self-doubt in the process I just detailed would be beyond intense. At every turn, most writers I know are stopping, at least for a moment, and saying, ‘my book isn’t that good.’ I know I did. Do.

But, there was some vaguely masochistic pleasure I felt when I learned this was normal. In fact, if there aren’t pushy tendrils of doubt wrapping around your ankles and knocking you down, something might actually be wrong. Too cocky, too arrogant isn’t a good look on someone who needs to knock politely on the immense mansion of traditional publishing.

I am a newly agented author. I’ve been with my incredibly supportive agent, Sarah Younger, of Nancy Yost Literary for a handful of months now. Yet I still had one of those moments of breathtaking insecurity recently. Sarah had requested some revisions to the manuscript (which is totally normal, BTW), before sending the book off to the editors she has in mind. It took me some time to do the revisions, and I had this feeling, this acid-coated pill stuck in my throat, sure, positive, that Sarah would see the revisions and call the whole thing off, all ‘what was I thinking’ style.

It took her about a month to get back with me. Thirty six days, if I was counting.

I still have an agent.

So, if you’re word crafting and trying to finish the book, if you’re revising until you want to scream, if you’re querying your hundredth agent, if you’re waiting for your editor’s final nod of approval…embrace the insecurity. I’m thinking it’s just part of the process. It’s that thing that keeps us wanting to be better.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Hop, Skip, and an Agent

Sometime in 2013, I had a conversation with the freelance editor I’d met serendipitously a couple years prior. Teresa and I had worked together over months and months, rewriting and editing my novel. Teresa, of, had been instrumental to my development as a serious writer. And now she was telling me something I wasn’t ready to hear.

“You really should try to get traditionally published.”

I’m no stranger to marketing, having built more than one business up to a respectable level. So, when I finished my book, I’d just kind of assumed I would self-publish my books. I’d keep more control, and I wouldn’t have to figure out the web-like intricacies of traditional publishing. Easy, peasy. Besides, the odds of even getting an agent? Low. I’d read about the hundreds of letters each agent gets each week, and the ridiculously low rate of response, let alone acceptance. Self-publishing seemed like the ticket.

But Teresa was persistent. She plied me compliments she insisted were warranted and a sweet melodic voice that had taught me many, many things which turned out to be true. Could this be true, too? Could traditional publishing actually be something I could do?

Then she went for the kill. “You’ll never know unless you try.”

Truer words. And I’m not someone to balk from a challenge. Over the next few weeks and months I began to read more, learn the market, learn the skills. Try to tackle query writing. Decide who would even be a good fit for me, as an author. It was exhausting and overwhelming. And I hadn’t even really started to ‘try’ yet.

After my research, I decided I would give myself a year. 2014. One year to try to get an agent. I went to several conferences, San Diego, New York, Madison and some local conferences, too. I learned something more each time. I pitched agents and editors. It was terrifying at first, pressing send on those queries, those face to face pitches. I bumbled and stumbled, even though I’d practiced. It was hard.

At the end of 2014 I didn’t have an agent. But surprisingly for a Type A, one thing I did have for my experimentation of the 2014 calendar year was hope. I won a place with a fabulous mentor, Kara Leigh Miller, through the #Pitchwars contest. I had queries out, even an editor at a big house who had requested my full manuscript at a conference. 2014 hadn’t been at all a wash. Even more interesting, all I learned helped me conclude self-publishing is just as difficult as traditional, in a different way. Now I was invested in the idea of traditional publishing. Even though my year was up, I wasn’t prepared to stop.

I attended the San Diego State University Writer’s Conference in January of 2015 and it was there I pitched to Sarah Younger of the Nancy Yost Literary Agency. Sarah requested my full manuscript, and after some additional revisions I sent it to her.

In mid-March, I received an email that I had dared not hope hard to receive. Sarah wanted to talk.

Talk? Like, talk, talk? Turns out, well…yes. Sarah, this real-live literary agent in New York wanted to represent me. Not just any agent, either. One with a great track record and some very happy clients. I talked to them, so I can say that for sure. This is still a long way off from traditional publication, but there is no denying this is a huge step forward. Nay, a leap.

Now I’m hard at work (still) on more revisions for Sarah and I couldn’t be happier that she chose me. I’ve gotten support and the feedback I needed to take my book to the next level, and hopefully get it published. Traditionally.