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Yes, it is that time again. Time to take stock of where I am in my writing life, and where I am going. I would prefer to just keep on writing and believe that somehow, magically, one of my books will be published. The fantasy goes something like this:
I’m sitting outside on a sunny afternoon with a cup of coffee, writing away on the newest manuscript. The words are flowing freely, the characters are brilliant and witty, and I’m completely immersed in the creative process.
My phone rings. I do not leap out of my chair and spill coffee all over my laptop because I am not on call, and have learned to accept a ringing phone as a harbinger of human relationships and maybe even good news, rather than a signal of disaster. I answer the phone, and a pleasant and professional voice inquires,”Is this Uppington Smythe?”
“Why yes, can I help you?”
“Ms. Smythe, this is Agent X – of Prestigious Literary Agency Y. I stumbled across your manuscript this morning – pardon me? Oh, no – you didn’t send it to me. I believe that a friend of a friend of yours, who happens to be my identical twin sister, was so impressed by it that they brought it in and urged me to read. I dropped everything and fell instantly in love.”
“I’m – speechless, Agent X.”
“I believe your book can be a bestseller. I am prepared to offer you a contract, right this moment. In fact, I have a publisher standing by with a lucrative advance in hand.”
Yeah. In my defense, I’ve been working on Swimming North, which involves surreal reality shifts. But I am not demonstrably insane, and I know it will never go down this way. When I find an agent, when I get published, it will be because I worked hard at perfecting my craft AND paid attention to the business of publishing. I wish that the writing were enough, but I know that it’s not.
And so. What are the next steps I need to take?
- Query widely. Yep. It’s about time to send out more queries on Filling in the Blanks. Every agent from the last mailing who is going to respond has probably already done so. Sadly, the blank spaces on my tracking sheet that indicate ‘no response’ should probably be interpreted as ‘NO.’
- Finish Next WIP. I’m actually on this one. Swimming North is undergoing the scrutiny of my beta readers as we speak. As soon as the critiques roll in, it’s back to revisions and edits (hopefully the final draft). While I’m waiting, I’m running edits on my first novel ever, a YA Fantasy, which has been dust gathering for several years. When I brushed it off, I decided it deserves a shot at the spotlight. There is a problem though – when I set out to write it I was oblivious of the publishing industry and just wrote a book. What I now have is a YA fantasy of about 95,000 words. Yeah. I’m paring it down as much as I can, and I will query it, but I know it’s likely to get turned down sight unseen due to length. The good news it – I am capable of learning. I now know better than this. If I write another YA Fantasy, it will be shorter.
- Write Queries and Synopses. While I am working on revisions and edits, I will also be working on queries and synopses for both Swimming North and Losaria. This way, as soon as the manuscripts are polished and ready to go, I can begin accumulating rejection letters on three novels at once. Because I believe that with every new novel I write, and every new rejection letter I receive, I am that much closer to YES.
As always, I’m interested in every body else’s progress toward goals. Where are you at, and where are you going?
Writing can be hard work.
Okay, I admit that I have a well developed ability to state the obvious, which I have just employed. We all know that writing can be hard work. But, I dare to suggest, not nearly as hard as we sometimes make it.
Anybody ever hear about self talk? If you’ve ever been within 20 feet of a mental health therapist, I’m willing to bet you have. We all engage in self talk. Those little pep talks you give yourself in the mirror before heading out to do something, the talking-to in the car after you’ve really embarrassed yourself at work or lost it with your kids -that’s self talk. Most of us also have an endless sound track that runs inside our heads, usually turned on low volume so that it’s not easily heard above the noise of daily living. And there it hums along like an unseen virus, shedding a constant litany of our failures and short comings into our subconscious.
The symptoms are discouragement, depression, and a certain difficulty in getting anything done. It makes itself known through little words and phrases, the way we look at the world.
I hear a lot of it from writers – on blogs, on Twitter, in person.
I only wrote 1000 words today, I should have written more. I should have seen this plot problem coming. I should have plotted more thoroughly, I should have foreseen this conflict, I should have created a more believable character, I should be a better writer.
Of course, you never have these thoughts. You are a completely well adjusted writer and human being, able to accept your strengths and your weaknesses with complete equanimity.
I, on the other hand, and I suspect a few others, do have a bit of a problem with beating ourselves up.
There are cures for this sort of thing. I’m not about to offer an exhaustive list, but here are a couple of things to consider:
1. Really, really berate yourself. Every time you notice a negative thought about yourself and your abilities flitting through your brain, tell yourself how stupid, inept, and hopeless you are. Slap yourself upside the head. But a cattle prod, and deliver an electric shock to your back side. (Note: this is sarcasm. Do not try this at home. It will harm you and your ability to write the Great American Novel.)
2. Try a daily affirmation. Write it daily in your journal. Something like, “I am writing to the best of my ability. Every word I put on paper makes me a better writer, and leads me closer to my goal.”
3. When you catch yourself in one of those negative thoughts, note it, and then calmly rephrase. It is not helpful to launch into a diatribe of I am so stupid I can’t even stop having negative thoughts.
4. Try some guided imagery – you can buy awesome CDs online that will talk you through relaxation and positive affirmations. One of my favorite websites for buying this sort of thing is Health Journeys, where you might consider this wonderful program by Bellaruth Naparstek.
5. If you notice that your negative self talk is pervasive and severe and is keeping you from doing the things you want to do, consider finding yourself a compatible therapist or life coach. Sometimes we need a little help to change a thought pattern that was years in the making.
It’s hard enough to battle plot problems, unruly characters, and recalcitrant words, without having to fight yourself at the same time. All of those shoulds make it harder than it needs to be to put Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keys, and get on with the business of getting words on paper.
Now, I don’t want to hear anybody saying, “I guess maybe I should try that.” The should word is evil, evil I tell you! Here’s my personal little trick, which has been turned back on me by my friends on several occasions. When you hear yourself saying or thinking the word SHOULD come to a complete stop. Then substitute one of the following:
a) choose to
b) choose not to
It’s really that simple. I SHOULD go write for awhile, becomes “I choose to go write for awhile,” or the equally valid, “I choose not to go write for awhile.”
Get it? Good. I need to get going – I choose to write for awhile before bed.
First things first. I am happy to report that I have finished this draft of Swimming North. Surreal it is, and always will be, but it has a coherent plot line and all of the arcs and character developments and all those other bits and pieces of structure are accounted for and occupying the appropriate positions. I think.
But did I plot it or pants it?
Now there is the million dollar question, to which I just discovered an unexpected answer.
My initial response would have been “No, I just sat down and wrote it.” Now this is true, but only partially. The real truth is, I just sat down and wrote the first draft. And then I looked at that, poked at it with a stick to see if there were signs of life, showed it to a couple of people and made some changes.
This resulted in yet another draft, which went through much the same process. This time I actually wrote an outline. Now to those of you who actually outline, this would not look like an outline at all. More like a brief grocery list of the preferred order of things, jotted down on a sticky note which I promptly lost. I spent a lot of time mulling various options for tightening the story arc. I cut an entire segment, and even made a thoughtful decision about changing tense during certain scenes for a specific reason. Characters got developed. Every scene had to prove its right to live or face the firing squad.
Far from random, but equally far from some orderly, structured approach.
If I had to join one side or the other of the plotting debate, I’d still have to call myself a pantzer. But the point is this: I do plot and structure and plan, but I tend to do this the way I navigate my job and my life: by thinking fast on my feet and reassessing as I go along. The first draft – which is rough, short, and written very fast, is actually my outline. Which then gets fleshed out, tweaked and tightened.
I’ve been wondering, of late, how much my personality type influences my writing style. I’m a INFP, for those of you who are familiar with the Myers-Briggs temperament types. And my writing style is consistent with this. Decisions are often made on what “feels” right. I hate to make decision, or close out possibilities.
What about the rest of you? Is your writing style consistent with the way you live the rest of your life? And, if you happen to know your temperament type, (either Meyers-Briggs or Keirsey-Werner) that is a piece of info that I’d find particularly interesting. You can take the Keirsey-Werner sorter here. The site will then try to get you to buy a full report, but it will give you some information free.
Regularly scheduled blog post has been interrupted by actual writing activity. Swimming North is swimming right along. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and am convinced that for once it isn’t a train.
Odd, I know, but the idea of actually completing this draft appeals to me. As I’m in the middle of yet another weekend on call, I need all of the writing time I can get, and today the WIP wins.
With baited breath and fingers crossed, and every other writerly cliche I can think of, I’m off to write for the finish.