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Posts related to writing and my writing.

Don’t be afraid to break your own rules

Pretty sure this is a common problem with most if not all writers. We write something and then insist that every single word after that correlates with those first words. That’s not how it has to be. This isn’t a perfect world, you’re not a perfect person, your writing isn’t perfect. You can use that delete key!

Just because the new something you wrote doesn’t follow previous set rules doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It could be the previous work that needs readjusting. As soon as you realize what you’ve done, sit and think. Which is best? Which will provide the best experience for the reader? Can’t decide? No problem, leave a little side note and come back to it when you’ve written more. A lot of these things take care of themselves. Right now the planned ending for my current piece is a cliffhanger. Readers don’t like that, but I’m not sweating it. I know things will change a dozen or more times before I get there, and I can worry about it then. (Of course I’m still holding out for not having to 😉 )

Can’t bear the thought of removing or changing your beautifully crafted words? No problem. Cut them out and paste them in a special section title “removed” or something like that. (If using Scrivener, be sure to paste them in the notes section instead of the actual document area to prevent an off word count.) Those words are not lost forever, and yes, I have actually gone back and used them on multiple occasions. One thing I do is before transporting my piece from Scrivener to Word, I reread all my notes, deleting the ones I’ve taken care of or are obsolete and then doing the same with the removed section. By the time I’m using Word, my piece is to the point I know what I will and will not put back in or throw away.

Good luck with your writing, and don’t be afraid to contradict your previous work! It may just be the best thing for it.

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Don’t be a lazy writer

I remember reading an article where an agent mentioned, “I hate lazy writers.” This shot a fire or fear through me. Was I a lazy writer? I didn’t think so. I certainly spent enough blood, sweat, and tears on my work. But would she consider me lazy? In other words, was there something I wasn’t doing I should be and didn’t know it?

Turns out I was being lazy and didn’t know it. Maybe you’re lazy where I am too, don’t realize it, and this post will help.

So something’s not working. Your murder mystery took you to the bottom of the family well where Tommy drowned only, wait, you didn’t write it that way. You wrote Suzy poisoning him during the breakfast of their honeymoon. But you like the well so much better! Everything else works out perfectly and it’s a groovy twist (whoa-did I just say groovy?) that NO ONE would expect, and, and… You just love it, OK?

So now you have a choice. You can either go back and rewrite countless words to make it so Suzy throws him into the well instead of poisoning him, you can change it back to poisoning at the end, or you can spend countless hours struggling to make the well work.

Here’s where my lazy comes in. I had the plot and character a certain way. I get stuck. I spend the day figuring out what to do. I fix it in my head. Well crap! Now I have to fix it on paper too! GRR!! I have two choices, keep working on it in my head until what I have already written somehow works, or rewrite what’s on the computer screen to match what I spent the day formulating. The lazy writer (and me a few months ago) will do the former. I chose the latter. Which will you choose?

Don’t be a lazy writer. I know chucking and rewriting can be painful (this is your baby we’re talking about) but what it really comes down to (for some writers anyway) is the desire not to have to spend more time writing what you already wrote. Annoying, but think of it this way. You will actually spend more time putting it off and trying not to do it than just doing it. Put on your work clothes and get dirty.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to pull my sleeves up and rewrite a scene.

Anxiety and Writing

I’m kind of writing this in hopes someone will say, “This isn’t anxiety; this is normal.” Then again, I would like the recognition of, “I have never experienced this. I can’t imagine what you must go through.” Not sure which one I want.

Anywho, so, I have anxiety, or at least I did. At any rate, it’s tapered greatly. Anxiety for me is as though I can see the future, like I have a time limit on absolutely everything I do. I’m sure you not-yet-published writers out there can understand where this leads to problems. Take this for example:

I wake, knowing I have to go to work later in the day. I have a few writing tasks to get done. I get done with part of them, possibly enough for most writers, I wouldn’t know. It’s not like I have a writing group where I ask, “Hey, how long would it take you to do XXX?” That seems silly and competitive. But that’s not enough. I can do more. I should do more. I have to do more because it’s not getting done fast enough. That’s the part that doesn’t feel normal.

And for you writers out there, you understand how looooooong the process is. Not “can take”; is. Not the writing itself, I’m talking about not-yet-published authors or indie authors who have to do 10X what the published ones do. The marketing, the writing, the editing, the querying, the cover design, the formatting, the uploading/dealing with distributors, the begging for reviews, the constant battle not to compare yourself to every single other author in the world, the networking, the trying to find cover designers/illustrators/editors, the job you work to make money until your writing takes off. I could go on, but like I said, I have work later today. The fact I get done what I do is mind boggling.

I want you to imagine this though. You have all that, but you see it all being played out in the future, not in a planner or that you have allotted false due dates for everything (trust me, that doesn’t help) but that’s it’s already overdue. You know your entire life’s track, and you should already be on the next train. So when you do your writing project of the day, no matter what it is, there is a tight feeling that starts from your upper arms and pulls into the center of your chest like an elastic spider’s web from p90X. That’s anxiety, and that’s what it feels like almost every hour of every day for me. I feel that way at work because I’m not editing my next ms. I feel that way while editing because it should have already been done. I feel that way now because I see the end of this post and want it done five minutes ago. But I have to keep going. I have to finish typing and then go back and reread it for errors. I’m sure I’ll miss a few, but I have to nonetheless 😉

Now, I could quite literally write a book on this, but I shan’t bore you with the details. Suffice it say I want to know the answer to just one question, “Is it like that for you?”

Describe your anxiety below in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

Free – sale almost over!

Hey toys and squirrels, my non-fiction book, What Does Spider Poop Look Like? is now free.

Wha?

I know! You were just think about spider poop this morning over breakfast, weren’t you? Well now you can have all your poop questions answered without having to visit the local poop museum or search through endless internet articles about teddy bears and antique cars. Heck-you don’t even have to leave the house! All you have to do is visit Amazon and click buy on the Kindle edition. Don’t use Amazon? No problem for $0.00 a month, you can visit my website and go to Barnes and Noble, Playster, Apple, and other places this book is sold.

But hurry. This offer won’t last!  Get yours before it’s too late!

(This has not been a paid advertisement by yours truly.)

How to use your beta readers effectively

I recently finished another manuscript and needed some beta readers. This is far from my first one, and I’ve learned a few things along the way. Let me share some with you now.

#1 – Give them instructions. Chances are, your beta readers are not professional editors, agents, and publishers. They don’t understand exactly what’s needed in their analysis. That’s perfectly fine, just give them a bit of instruction. For example, this manuscript I just finished is a picture book. Unless you have read the countless dozens I have, studied them as I have, read advice and articles as I have, you’re not going to realize a few things. One of those things is that the words don’t tell the story so much as the pictures do. I recently read The Bad Mood and the Stick by Lemony Snicket, and a prime example of this relationship. Nowhere does the writing tell what the bad mood looks like or that it’s floating around, etc. The artist does that. This is one of the instructions I gave my beta readers.

#2 – They aren’t trying to break your soul. OK, you just poured your literal soul onto a piece of paper, and someone had the audacity to criticize it?!?!?! Yup, that’s pretty much what just happened. But like our real soul, where we think we’re doing right but may be doing things very very wrong, we need a little instruction every now and again. When someone tells you something about yourself you don’t like, you probably dismiss it at first but then maybe, later, when you’ve grown a bit, you realize they might have been right all along. We don’t have that kind of time here. Take a deep breath, here it goes. Most say just keep getting critiqued over and over and you’ll get used to it, etc. Not for me. That didn’t work. What did work was to stop looking at it like the love of my life and more like a business. I’m building a car, not displaying my insides for the world to see. They’re telling me the gears don’t switch well, not that my favorite character isn’t working. What worked for me is to step back, aka strip the story away from my chest kicking and screaming, and then look at it. Once I’m in that mood, I take suggestions far more easily. It still hurts, but I’m more open to it, and that makes a better story.

#3 – Don’t take every single statement to heart. Like I said, they’re not professionals, and even if they were, each one will be different. I’ve seen countless authors, “One beta reader said this and now I have to fix it.” I’m like, “Why? Is it actually a problem? How many betas did you have?” If your answer is 6 or more, why do you care what that one said? Don’t get me wrong. That one could see something no one else did that does need to be changed. This is where you have to put your manager’s cap on and make the big decisions. Not everything they think needs changing needs changing, and you have to be the one to decide that.

#4 – Make a list and check it twice. Not everyone is cut out for beta reading. If they never get back to you, if their suggestions don’t line up right, they’re probably not the best reader for your books, just like a certain agent isn’t the best agent for you or a certain publisher, or, you know, a spouse. Everyone is different, and not everyone matches up. That’s OK.

Hope this helps you with your next manuscript. Good luck!

When your writing quits writing itself

I honestly don’t know how many times I’ve been there. A LOT. But there’s always that chapter/scene where the writing stops. It’s like, “What am I supposed to be doing now? What’s supposed to be happening?” Even with a detailed plot structure with clear instructions of what is and is not supposed to be happening, it did it again.

Then my son asked a question.

The other day I was asking for help in coming up with a title for my current WIP, and my son asked, “What is the MC’s goal?”

And he had me.

Such a simple question. THE question, and I knew it was a problem since day one. I had the goal, but I didn’t. Not really. Whenever I tried to write an elevator pitch for the blurb, it just crumbled into obscurity.

And that’s when I realized. I have been over complicating things.

This whole time I kept thinking I needed more plot, more complexity. Alas, I needed more simplicity. I kept concentrating on the villain, kept claiming that defeating him was the goal. It so wasn’t.

The goal was XXX. The villain just gets in the way. Like my mother said, “KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid.” And she was right.

Start with the simple and embellish later if you need to. Not sure I’ll ever be good at that, but at least now I know what the real goal is and that the villain has very little to do with it.

Oh yeah, the writing. See, without the correct goal, I was just spinning my wheels, my characters were passing time until the next big thing happened. NOW, my characters have a desire, a purpose, and my writing will go back to taking care of itself. Just to be clear, I did know their goal is what drove the story before this revelation. Whenever I would get stuck, I would think, “What does my character want? What would they do?” But this time, I have a clearer picture, a big picture, the right picture. Oh, and I also have an elevator pitch 🙂 Hoo yeah!

So, the next time you get stuck, ask yourself, “What would my character(s) do? What do they want?” They have to keep trying for their goal. If that doesn’t work as well as it should, reanalyze your main goal. Is it really defeating the villain, or does the villain just get in the way. Good luck with your writing!

The problem with Query rejections

We’ve all had them, from being completely ignored to a well thought out reply, even the notorious “form rejection”, querying is as much fun as jumping in a swimming pool full of razor blazes and alcohol. But let’s talk about something I don’t think most authors realize, and certainly not the agents. That’s right agents, I’m talking to you. Listen up.

I’m in the middle of querying, and I’ve gotten ignored. I’ve gotten obvious form rejections, and recently, I’ve gotten what I thought was a nice rejection. But it wasn’t. Let me show you:

I have now read your query. I can see the work put into the query and that you have effectively captured the nature of the novel, but I confess that it is not for me. I didn’t love it, and, unfortunately, if I don’t feel that strongly, I’m the wrong agent for the work. Publishing is a notoriously subjective business, and every author needs both an agent and an editor who do love their work. It’s hellishly difficult getting editors to take a look at new authors, so that initial enthusiasm is vital.

FYI, I’ve taken on five writers as clients and turned down well over 4,000, so far… I know it can be as difficult to get an agent as it is to be taken on by a publisher. You just have to keep plugging away. Good luck.

All best wishes for the future.

Yours,
XXX

Ah, what a beautiful letter! So full of kindness and encouragement, but here’s the problem. I took it to heart. I honestly thought I had “effectively captured the narrative of the novel,” and was prepared to review the written query in order to use it as the main backbone for future ones. My first clue this might be a mistake was that I didn’t send this agent any material. How could they possibly know I “captured the narrative” if they never laid eyes on it?

At first I assumed they, knowing far more than I in the biz, were somehow able to deduce this on their own. But just to be sure, I posted this letter on QueryTracker. Guess what? Someone else got exactly the same letter! Hmmm….

This agent wasn’t the only one like that. I had others with the same problem. And I remember, years ago, receiving a letter from an agent informing me that they just didn’t connect with my characters. While that is definitely advice to take to heart in writing and something which should be on the forefront of every manuscript, it was very likely not true. It was probably just another form rejection.

So, dear agent who wrote this, thank you very very much for trying to be nice and encouraging and wonderful but bear in mind, it almost cost me big time. The query I sent you was not my best, and had I used it as such, imagine the consequences. (although to be honest at this point I have no idea what’s best or worst as far as my queries go) Just leave out that little part about effectively capturing, and it’ll be great! And my thanks is most sincere. The last paragraph of chugging away is something I will probably print and mount to keep me going. To hear that from someone such as yourself brings tears from the knowledge of understanding and compassion. Thank you.

And, dear authors, this is a warning to you. Don’t take every rejection to heart. Research to make sure they meant what they said. QueryTracker is a great way to do this. TTFN! And good luck with your querying! You’re going to need it.

The Importance of Character

Many authors, like myself, get caught up in the plotline or, and this is my big booboo, the setting, the premise. So I’m really into sci-fi, etc, and the thought of watching a movie/reading a book where a building fades in and out of existence, taking its inhabitants to parallel worlds or even places of the universe is pretty cool. But that’s not what hooks the audience. It’s the characters. I know. I know. It’s hard to imagine for those visual effects people out there like me, but maybe this will help.

One of my absolute favorite games to play was/is Beyond Good and Evil. Ah Jade, Pey’J, even Double H, these were the characters who made up that game. The premise was amazing, the gameplay-amazing, the graphics, the collections, the photo taking, all great. But, and I didn’t realize this until I watched a trailer for it this morning, that’s not what made the game for me. It was the characters.

See, Jade is the character you play, and in the sequel us fans have been waiting on for 15, yes 15, years, she’s not in it. I watched the trailer this morning and didn’t recognize a single aspect of it. Pirates? Hmmm, OK, I guess I can pretend pirates had something to do with it. Different graphics? Well, it’s not my cup of tea, but I understand the audience wants the game to be up to date on the graphics side.

Wait.

Where’s Jade?

That’s right, the main character who you won the game with, the character you strove to keep alive, to save Double H and Pey’J with, the hero who struggled through and survived to live another day, who had the chemistry with Pey’J, yeah-she’s gone. And that was it. I was done with the game. I have no more desire to play the sequel, finite, nada.

This is why character is so important.

When I wrote the sequel to Anya and the Secrets of Cupola, the first chapter was almost a preface. It included, not the main characters of Gevin, Anya, and Taika, but a skinwalker named Azizi. A friend of mine read it and actually stopped themselves to look at the cover to make sure it was the right book as they didn’t recognize it as such. Ew. That’s bad. Real bad. Did I make a mistake? I hope not. I mean, there is a bit of a difference between one chapter without your characters and an entire book. Just look at Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Now granted, my books don’t have movies and millions of fans to help the story stay in your head, but Azizi was mentioned in the first book, just like Riddle was in the Harry saga.

So by now you’re asking yourself what my point is. My point is that even though the setting, the premise, the built world is amazing and spectacular and will draw readers in like a mosquito on an otherwise perfect day, you’ll lose readers without good characters, and believable ones at that. Until next time 😉

POC on a book cover

POC is a broad term including pretty much everyone that isn’t stereotypically white, and since a great deal of the world bunches all us “white people” together into one very stuffy, very stale bowl, it obviously doesn’t include everyone. But I recently watched a presentation by Barry Goldblatt, literary agent for Barry Goldblatt Literary, that spoke to me. He said there is still a firm belief within the publishing world that placing a POC on the cover of a book will keep it from selling, at least as well.

I don’t doubt that. But not for why you think.

As a child, when I saw a POC on a cover of a book, I groaned and moaned because I knew the book was going to be one of those serious “teach kids a lesson” books that would bore me to tears. It was usually a girl with some detrimental look on her face who had lived some terrible life of slavery and concentration camps and while very interesting and educational (probably more interesting to me now as an adult 😉 ) they were not fun. In fact, they were often depressing.

Fast forward to today. We pretty much have the same thing, only now the POC’s are Arabic and Indian.

But wait.

I’ve seen a very very few books with POC on the front that looked fun. Of Giants and Ice is one (although they left the POC off two of the four covers, never figured that out), Princess Cupcake is another. This blog post shares 12 books with POC where the topic isn’t racial. Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion looks cute.

I did an internet search and an Amazon search. Both came up with pretty much nothing but serious books that completely turned me off from the get-go. I had to really search to find a book with a POC on the front that was just for fun, like the ones I mentioned above. And I truly think that’s the problem. I think that’s the reason “POC covers don’t sell”. If the publishing community would quit treating POC like some sorrowful event we all have to read with our heads bowed, they would sell more. But that’s just my opinion.

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