Thursday, December 15, 2011

73 workshops... 4 weeks... no problem

What I'm reading now: Eragon, by Christopher Paolini
The random thing that's been stuck in my head for three days:

My four-week hiatus from The Novel ends this Saturday. My new sci-fi novel has done a pretty good job distracting me (I'm 94 pages in), but I'm very excited to get back into my first book. First a full read-through, forcing myself not to make any changes and just mark places where the pacing gets funky or something sounds off (read: mission impossible). Then another round of edits to correct those.

A couple weeks ago I planned to use the next month to go through the workshops in Mr. Maass' Breakout Novelist. I originally thought there were only 36. So I figured, two a day should bring me about flush with my deadline to get the draft to Ms. Chavez by January 15th for editing.

Then I read through another section of his book, and realized there aren't 36. There are 73.

If you don't see me for the next month, now you know why.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Why do you write? (No, really?)

What I'm Reading Now: The Breakout Novelist, by Donald Maass

The answer should be simple, but it's taken me forever to publish this post. Little background first: Donald Maass will be one of the guest speakers at the upcoming April writer's conference that I hope to introduce myself to, so I figured what better way to learn about Mr. Maass and challenge my current draft than pick up his most recent book? He's a literary agent with more than thirty years' experience and one of the names in publishing I most admire for all the time he takes to truly help authors, both published and not, take their work to the next level.

In the chapter I just finished, Mr. Maass asks, why are you writing your current novel? Back in March I would have replied with something like, "Because I love to write and I have to do it!" But any writer would answer that, and it hardly tells you anything about me. Writing is all about reaching deeper, something I've struggled with because it's putting pieces of me on paper that I'm much more comfortable keeping hidden. But I've realized I wrote The Novel because despite that, there's something rewarding about the process. They're just fictional characters, but they make choices I'd be far too cowardly to make, they push themselves harder than I'll ever have to push myself, and they persevere despite everything I throw at them. It's a chance to explore the answers to 'what if' questions from the safety of my couch. It's about discovery. It's about vulnerability.

So if you're a writer, whether it's a book or a blog or a diary, why do you write? No, really?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Turkey week!

What I'm reading now: Black, by Ted Dekker

Thanksgiving's almost here! Family, friends, and food is on the horizon, and even more shocking, I'm doing my first (and last) Turkey Trot. A local 5k, and yes, I'll actually be running. For the first mile, at least. Good news, it's supposed to be almost seventy tomorrow, which I am very much a fan of. Last year it was zero. Those of you who know me know I bring out a parka for anything under sixty.

On Sunday I finally finished my most recent round of edits. Now (only a month later than I wanted to...) I can set the ms aside for a few weeks. During the lull I'm supposed to keep writing and reading, so Mr. King says and so I will listen. In that spirit, I'm already ten pages into a new novel that's going much smoother than the first, probably because I kind of have an idea of what I'm supposed to be doing now. Another YA. No magic, persay, but does involve an 'other' world my main char will have to deal with. This one's set in present day so I'm having lots of fun adding in things like Alienware laptops and Metallica posters.

So I get to focus on the real world again for a while! Man, have we changed presidents or anything since I've been away? Come out with the iPad 6? Started the zombie apocalypse? I feel like I'm resurfacing from a tornado bunker I've been stowed away in for at least the past four months. Maybe I'll even do laundry this week. Or clean the house.

Or play Assassin's Creed: Revelations, because it just came out and obviously that's the best use of my time :)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pikes Peak Writer's Conference 2012

What I'm reading now: Black, by Ted Dekker

Well, I've done it. Taken the plunge. Put my money where my mouth is, and I'm registered to go to the 2012 Pikes Peak Writer's Conference! I've preregistered for both a pitch session and an appointment, and though I won't know for sure if I get an appointment until it gets closer to the event, slots are assigned based on registration date so I think I've got a good shot at getting my first choices. We'll see, I guess! These are my three possibilities (in no particular order):

Lou Anders
Hugo award winning editor at Pyr Books, sci fi/fantasy fanatic and he's also an art director - sweet!

Kristin Nelson
A Denver-based agent and avid blogger. She always has great advice for both published and non-published authors, a very honest and open and fun person! Plus she's local :)

Taylor Martindale
An agent at Full Circle Literary who's looking for contemporary YA fantasy. No blog link yet that I've found to follow, but from her bio she sounds like the kind of person I'd get along with fabulously.

The conference isn't until April and wow I'm grateful for that. Still so much to do on the manuscript. And while I'm excited to meet so many editors, agents, and fellow authors, I'm going to be way out of my comfort zone come conference time (you mean I have to go over there and... and... introduce myself??). But I've never wanted something so badly in my life as getting this little novel published, so I'll do it. Countdown's started!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"No one said it would be easy. They said it'd be worth it."

(Thanks Bailey for the inspiration for the title quote!)

What I'm (still) reading now: The Shining, by Stephen King
Query letter update! Okay, it's really not that exciting. In fact, thinking about it now is upsetting my noodle lunch. Just received feedback on the round 2 version of the letter from my 'How to Get Published' instructor, who commended me for perfect format (yay!), but has advised that I need to shrink my synopsis from 2 1/2 paragraphs to 1. At this point I'd rather be abandoned, soaking wet, in the middle of Antarctica. That thing is going to be the end of me!

Writing this book is the most time-consuming, frustrating, amazing, maddening, confusing thing I've ever done in my life.

It's difficult to explain the almost manic highs and lows of the process. One day I feel ecstatic at discovering a new scene, the next I feel overwhelmed by the pressure to do everything perfectly. Is there enough (or too much) internal thought? Do I describe each setting appropriately? Are my characterizations consistent? And I'm in the "writer's vacuum" right now, because I can't show the work to anyone yet, it's not ready. I feel like I could edit it forever and it would never be ready. How do I know when to stop?

There's also this little problem that right now, my writing style is highly impressionable. I read Stephen King, and suddenly I'm rewriting with some of his tone. Which would be great if the whole novel was written that way, but I've read different books at different stages of the edit and I'm somewhat terrified that the work's going to sound like five different people wrote it. I've lost my voice, I guess you could say. Not really sure what to do about that, except keep writing. And editing. And revising.

My sanity will have to wait.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Just 5 More Months...

What I'm reading now: The Shining, by Stephen King
Weirdest thing I saw this week: When you're running down your local bike path, you expect to see things like strange cycling outfits and families pulling those little buggies behind their bikes, sometimes with dogs in them instead of kids. What you do not expect to see is a medieval battle over a bridge. Full costumes. Swords. Wizard hats and wands. Stabbings and elaborate deaths. Oh and no, this was not on Halloween.

I've officially entered the 2012 Pikes Peak Writers Contest! Except results won't be in until mid-March. That feels like a long time to wait, but it'll be worth it. The top 3 entries in each category earn recognition at a conference that follows in April, but just getting back a critique from industry professionals (the judges are usually agents) will be well worth the entry fee. Because honestly, one of the hardest things about writing for me is just not knowing. How do I know if what I've written is any good? How do I know if I'm getting any better? What's still missing?

Though I will say, writing the synopsis for the contest made me realize my current ending, um, sucks. I don't explain enough, because I keep thinking "it's so much creepier if I wait to reveal why in book 2." Heck with that. It's time to get inside the head of my deceptive little villain and add some weight to the decisions made at the end of the book. So, as I go happily through my draft for revision 3,942,034,020,349,934, I'll be redoing the ending. Smile.

In the meantime, I'm curious if anyone else has ever been to a writers' conference or entered a writing contest? Or if you know of any others coming up soon in the Colorado area?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

And a synopsis is born...

What I'm Reading: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor

It's been a productive week for me thus far. I've decided to enter a writing contest in the Springs, so I've been working hard on polishing the first 4000 words of the manuscript (even added a new chapter) and on a new piece of torment called a synopsis. This little devil is a 2-3 page summary of the entire novel, ending included, that has to accompany each entry. It's not as horrible as the dreaded 2-3 paragraph query letter, but it's still agony to write. You have to strip your story down to bare bones plot points, focus on just 3-4 characters, convey a sense of who your protagonist/antagonist/most important secondary characters are and what motivates them, introduce, expand on, and resolve the main problem, all while explaining the world of the book and not losing your "voice"--or your sanity--in the process. Voice being, of course, your style of writing. Then again, I've read it out loud so many times, I'll probably lose my real voice soon enough.

One of the most important things I've done in preparing my entry is to have someone else read my work. I've had a couple beta readers go over the first 4000 words and over the synopsis, too. Their feedback is gold. I'm waaay too close to the details to know what holes I've left behind. Even my reluctant husband, who'd sooner browse for Coach purses at the mall than read anything longer than a paragraph, read through my synopsis and asked all sorts of questions I hadn't considered before. He's not afraid to tell me "this makes no sense" or "this sentence is stupid" either. Honest beta readers are a must.

Query letter update! I got feedback from the teacher of my online publishing course, an actual NY agent, and her first three words: "This is great!" Gosh, it's so good to hear that. I've poured hours into that darn thing and after you make so many changes and have it memorized, it's hard to know if anyone besides you will actually understand it. There are other things that need fixin', of course, but I'm thrilled at her initial reaction. Now to apply that same level of toil to the rest of the ms...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Steady as she goes

What I'm Reading Now: Green by Ted Dekker

Not much to report this week. I'm down to the last nine pages of the rewrite and just realized I have a couple more scenes to add. Hopefully I'll still be able to finish "draft two" by the end of the month. Haha optimism is funny, isn't it?

I'm wondering how long I should let it sit after that. Stephen King says six weeks, but I attended a writing seminar this past weekend and the instructor there said you don't want to leave it sitting too long, or you'll have trouble getting back into the style you wrote it in. So you should give it, you know, at least 24 hours. ... Um, could the difference be any more night and day? How am I supposed to work with that, people?! I'll flip a coin I guess.

This afternoon I can turn in a copy of my query letter to the agent in my 'How To Get Published' class. Very excited to get her feedback. I bet I've spent at least a month writing the query letter alone, which is only 368 words including a short bio. Wish me luck!

Last but not least--I've added some publishing links to the blog (see right-hand column) in case you're curious about what a query letter is or how I stalk literary agents. I've also added my editor's blog and a link to a blog for a local Denver agent. They both have great advice when it comes to writing and seeing the book world from the business side of things. I don't know what I'd do without the internet!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Slam it into Overdrive

What I'm Reading Now: Thr3e, by Ted Dekker

On page 200 of the 245 page rewrite/second draft of the novel. Sometimes it's like walking over coals and standing in one place too long. Sometimes it's like flying.

I'm learning a lot from Mr. Dekker (Jamie, thank you for the recommendation!). If you haven't read his books, and especially if you haven't read Thr3e, go out and get yourself a copy. I'm at chapter 9 and haven't been this invested in a story since I finished the Harry Potter series. His character work is phenomenal. The story is gripping, fast, and tight. I keep the book in my purse so I can read at any five minute opportunity. Hopefully some of that will leak into my writing, too.

In addition to the rewrite, today I start a four-week online course entitled 'How to Get Published.' An actual literary agent is the instructor, and we get to submit a query letter to her, twice, for critique. Invaluable. I can't wait to get her feedback and to see the publishing world from the inside out. For those of you who don't know what a query letter is, it's a one-page torture session in which you have to scrunch a 75,000-word novel into 150 or less words. It should ultimately read like the back of a book, highlighting the main character, the problem, and the stakes.

I'd tell you I'm looking forward to revising it yet again, but that would be a lie. That's like saying you're excited about going to the dentist.

At any rate, I hope to gather some interesting tidbits to pass on. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What are you reading?

What I'm reading now: Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

Stephen King says a good writer reads as much as s/he writes. You'd think that'd be obvious, but I'm ashamed to admit I haven't picked up a book in at least a year.

I've been doing lots of other things wrong, too. Apparently once the first draft is done, Mr. King sets his manuscript aside for at least 6 weeks and writes about something else entirely during that time. Only after that, he says, (and I agree) can you see the old manuscript with fresh eyes and spot important things like plot holes, theme, character inconsistencies, etc. He also says, don't let anyone read it until you've revised the second draft.

Oops. I had people reading chapters 1-5 while I wrote chapter 6.

Time to fix things. I have some huge errors in the current draft to address (point of view issues, for example), but after that, I'm taking Mr. King's advice and setting the thing aside to "simmer."

In the meantime, I'm going to need some fantastic reading material. Any suggestions?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Writing that you can Feel

I'm barely thirty pages into Stephen King's On Writing. The first half of the book covers his childhood and his journey to becoming a published author. Eh, probably boring, right?

So wrong.

The man isn't one of the bestselling authors of all time for nothing. I've already laughed out loud and gasped in horror. I squirmed in my chair when he described a doctor popping his ear drum. Everything he writes is so full of feeling. I'm completely immersed from page one, as though someone set me on that exam table with him and stuck a ruler-sized needle in my ear, too.

Now I've realized my first draft is like a movie script—the action is there, but the emotion is surface-deep. I show everything that happens, but I don't give a lot of insight into what my characters are feeling. So for draft two of the novel, that's what I'm focusing on.

What have you read that gets under your skin?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

So you want to be a writer...

When I started writing my novel seven months ago, I thought it would be easy. I love to write. And the idea I have is one that's been right in front of my face for almost ten years. It was time to do something about it.

I started writing. At first it was just a couple times a week--I'd sit down and just see where my imagination took me. I started with just three things: the general idea, a basic outline of my main characters, and the climax. I had no idea what was going to happen in between.

But miraculously, a story formed. The characters came alive like I never imagined. I started paying closer attention to the people around me: how they moved, how they interacted, all the funny things they said. My characters adopted their traits (if you know me personally, you might want to start worrying now).

A couple times a week turned into a couple hours a day. Suddenly I was dreaming up new scenes everywhere I went, from my drive to work to when I was out on a run or even at the store. I finished the novel in August.

At least I thought I did. More on that later.

My little novel still has a long ways to go, but I will do whatever it takes to get it published, whether that means self-publishing or traditional. If anyone else out there is trying to get published, I hope if nothing else I can help by describing what steps I'm taking, and give some insight into the frustration and the joy that is inevitably part of this process. And if you've published something already, I'd love to hear your story!

Can I write well enough to be published? I don't know.

But I'm going to try.

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