Ernest Hemingway:

As Ernest Hemingway once said...
'All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.'

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

on critiques (yes, again)

I can't say it enough. I love critiques. I love critiquing. I can think of nothing that's inspired my writing more than critiques and critiquing. Whether I'm critiquing a novel, a chapter, a story, or even a poem, it's like crack to me. I can't get enough.

While simmering in critiques for my last novel - the one I'm thinking of self-publishing - the proverbial faucet turned on. Hard. Where my ideas and inspirations lately have been few and far between, I spoke too soon on another blog about always sleeping well, and barely got a wink last night because of them.

I know now exactly how to fix my last novel. And not only that, but how to strengthen my current novel. I have new tools in my toolbox (to steal an image from Stephen King - yes, Stephen King again), things to rely on when I need to make changes, and things that will become standard fare in deciding on whether an idea is good and how to frame it well.

I'm inspired again. And I couldn't be happier. And I owe it all to the kind, wonderful writers who critique my work, and also the tolerant, patient writers who allow me to critique their work.

Of course, this isn't the first breakthrough I've had with my last novel. Not even close. Which makes me wonder if it won't be the last. But that's okay. Because you know what? I've learned so much with each new draft. It just keeps getting better and better. So if it takes a few more rewrites, so be it. I'll continue to learn, and to grow. And who better to learn from than my fellow writers?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

feeling out of balance

So as I've been slowly working my way through Stephen King's On Writing, it's been my goal to write at least a thousand words a day. I've been fairly successful at it. The problem is, when I get past a thousand, I quit. Which is good, in some respects. A thousand words is a decent chunk when you've got a life going on around you. When you don't - aka no job - it's a crutch. I could write a lot more.

But there's Mad Men on Netflix instant view. And the Game of Thrones novels sitting on the end table that my mother-in-law dropped off the other day. And Simply Ming on PBS. And the novels I'm reading and critiquing for a few fine folks. Oh yeah, and my little monkey wanting to play Candyland or Chutes and Ladders or maybe eat some lunch.

It's like once I get to those thousand words, no matter how much I say I just need a break, and will write more later, it usually doesn't happen. I'm sure there's an easy fix. Like make my goal two thousand. Or three. Easy, right?

The thing is though, I think those other things are creeping in so much because I'm feeling out of balance. I don't have a job. I need to figure out health insurance. I need to think about who I'm going to bother next to get a job. I need to think about filing for unemployment. There's a lot going on in my head, and it doesn't leave a lot of room for much else. Once I force myself to sit down and write it's fine. It flows well. It's easy to crank out a thousand words. I tell myself over and over, this is your time to write, to figure out what you want, but it just causes more stress and anxiety.

My last job was full of issues and problems. But I felt a sense of balance there. I liked the work, liked my co-workers, had a good relationship with my boss (or so I thought), and worked great hours. The balance was great. I had a great life at home, and a chance to get away and be my own person, too. I didn't have to worry about so many things, so it was easier to focus on writing when I needed to. Writing was a joy.

Now though, it's a chore, forcing my mind to push through the other issues and barriers and focus on writing. I know it won't be this way forever. And I'm trying to make myself see that in a world of chaos, writing is one of the things that grounds me. It's one of the things that's constant, always there, always waiting for me to come back. And that is comforting.

Oh, if only I could make even a little bit of money with my writing so I could maybe get something part-time and make it work. Wouldn't that be the life?

Does anyone else feel like it's hard for them to write when their life is out of balance?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

deathly afraid of self-publishing

Okay, so after getting to know a handful of people who have self-published and reading numerous blog posts on the subject, the idea is fresh in my mind. Still - I can't push the button. First, because I don't know nearly enough about it, not about formatting, marketing, etc. I have the resources to learn. I just need to carve out some time to do it. And that's hard to do when I'm taking care of the monkey full-time, working on another novel, and helping others with their writing. This is so cliche, but there just isn't enough time in the day to do everything I want to do.

More than anything though I'm worried beyond belief that I'll put it out there, and it won't sell, or it will get bad reviews, or that basically it will be my downfall as an author. Because that's what's so scary. Once it's out there it can't be taken back. So agents and publishers will be able to track it down FOREVER. That's a damn long time. I know, I know, it might get good reviews too. That's the thing. I don't know. Anything is possible.

As those of you who've been following for a bit know, I've submitted my novel to numerous agents, presses, whoever will take it, basically. I've gotten one request from an actual, real-life agent, and she passed. I've gotten two request from indie presses - one passed (though that was a previous version) and one still has it, but I'm not holding out much hope.

The thing is, it's not a genre that is selling right now. It's not YA, fantasy, dystopian, etc. Or is that just what I tell myself to make all the rejection seem better somehow? I've let a handful of people read it, and they've all loved it. But they're my friends and/or family. Can I really take their opinions seriously? I know a big part of marketing for self-publishing is knowing how to categorize it or 'tag' it. I don't know how to categorize it. That's been my biggest struggle so far I think.

Bottom line, if I'm going to do this, I need help. I take risks, I have no problem doing that. But so much is on the line. I want to know for sure that there's at least a shred of a chance that it will get a good review or sell at least a few copies. I need people I don't know well to read it and tell me what's wrong (big picture). I need people to help me categorize it. I really think it could sell - but I want to be as best prepared as possible if and when I take this leap. I have a few ideas in mind of where to go for this help, but if any of you have suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

what if? and my big duh moment

So I'm not quite done with Stephen King's On Writing yet but while reading it last night I stumbled into an 'a-ha' moment. According to Stephen King, stories should start out as 'what if' situations.

Duh, right? Seems easy. Not sure how this idea has escaped me all these years, but somehow it has. Mostly my stories are based on my fantasies (I daydream way too much) that I change around enough so as to not resemble my life in any way. Lots of times I work the whole thing out in my head before I even write one word. I see now how this isn't the best way, not even close.

One of his 'what if' examples:

What if vampires invaded a small New England village? This is the 'what if' for 'Salem's Lot, of course.

'What if' is how he starts a story. He builds from there. In fact, he's very against plotting, something I've convinced myself is necessary for the past few drafts. I'm reconsidering. Because I think plotting (or detailed outlining) is why my current work is just about finished in 50K words, about 25K short of my initial goal. Because I stick to the plot instead of letting the story emerge.

Like I said, duh.

The plot to this novel is already clear. It just needs some serious padding. It's interesting - when I've disregarded the outline a little bit and made it up as I went along it flowed much better and seems more coherent. Thankfully it fits the 'what if' test - What if a young man finds out his dad isn't dead after being told all his life that he was? The hows and whys and whos are all variable. That is to say they can be changed up and the 'what if' still exists. I mean seriously - a light bulb turned on in my head. This makes so much sense. Leave it to Stephen King to say in so few words something that completely changes my life.

I've tried to apply the 'what if' test to my other novels, and not-so-shockingly, it doesn't work. What if a woman's husband dies, and she falls in love with another man, but can't deal with it, and becomes an alcoholic, and gets involved with her husband's best friend, and well, you get the point. The main 'what if' - woman's husband dies - isn't strong enough.

And how about this one? What if a woman's boyfriend goes out of town, and she falls in love with a musician, but doesn't do anything except be his friend, and then he calls to say he has cancer, and dies, and well, again, you get the point. What if a woman falls in love with another man isn't strong enough. Not even close! I'm laughing right now. It's the oldest plot line in history, right?

I think a standard part of my new process is going to be starting with 'what if' and working from there. It will be the very first thing on my new 'facts' page. I'm going to wing it from now on and make notes on major plot points and factual items as I go along (so I don't forget and have to hunt through the manuscript for information).

Do any of you start with a 'what if'? Honestly, how did I miss this?

Thank you, Stephen King. All of this just reaffirms that you are my hero.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

a little taste of my writing

Jo Michaels posted an interesting challenge via Facebook. Instead of answering it there, I'm going to answer it here. It's a good blog topic, especially since I've never shared my work. And, most of my friends on Facebook aren't writers, so it won't be as appreciated there.
Post 7 lines from the 7th line down on the 77th page of your novel.

Here goes:

Mom leans down to hear the barely five-foot woman better. Officer Penny repeats the question. Mom says no, but looks almost offended, even though she’s probably just overwhelmed.
"Standard procedure, ma’am,” says Penny as she pushes open the door. “Believe me, the invasion of privacy doesn’t end there.”

When the thick door closes they’re in a bare room with black cages and concrete walls. Penny sits at a metal table and tells Mom to sit across from her.

“Okay, we’ve got a form here for you to fill out and sign. It’s just so we have all of your information on file saying you’re an approved visitor, yadda yadda yadda. I’ll give you a minute.”
Interesting idea. This is from my work-in-progress. I'd love to see more from other writers.

Friday, July 06, 2012

a day in the life of an unemployed writer

Sit down at computer. Open up gmail. Scan through the numerous emails from potential employers via Monster and Indeed to see if literary agent who previously asked for the first three chapters after reading unsolicited query sent a reply. She did. Hope beyond hope it asks for the full manuscript while you open up and delete every other new email in your box. Finally open email from agent. She's not interested. Sigh.

Tell yourself, as you scan through other social media sights instead of actually writing, that it's okay. No one has wanted it so far. But, just having an agent ask is a big step in the right direction. There are several queries still outstanding. You might get another bite.

Then, while doing laundry, again instead of writing, you dog on yourself. Of course she didn't want to represent you. Nothing is working out in your favor. No one wants to employ you, no one wants your writing. What else is new.

You make yourself and the little one lunch, all the while refuting previous evidence. After all, it's ridiculous. You have two interviews this week and one next week, all with great companies, all positions that are interesting and more in line with what you want to do. You're 50K+ words into your new work-in-progress, and it will, no doubt, sell. It's a good, original concept, with just enough suspense, romance, and even a futuristic element. The query's already written. And it's good. Life is good. You're getting paid to spend time at home with your little monkey. You get to sleep late. You don't have to fix your hair, put on makeup, or wear suits, pantyhose, and heels all day long. Yup. Pretty fantastic.

Take a nap. Fall asleep while working out plot lines and ways to lengthen your WIP (and wonder why you seem to be the only person in the world who has to add, not cut). Wake refreshed. Thank the gods for naps and wonder why it took you so long to get on board.

Do some writing while the little one continues to nap. Thank the gods she's still napping even at almost four years old. Bang out a good chunk, but it's still interrupted by checking email and media sites. Darn distractions. Think about sending out more queries. Immediately put that thought to rest - you can see through it. It's just another distraction.

I could go on and on. Bottom line - the agent didn't want to read more. Her loss, right? I really need to tie a bow on that novel and put it aside for good. It's been a fantastic journey, a fantastic learning experience. But it's done. Maybe one day I'll unearth it. After all, it's lived on with many different faces. It's hard to say goodbye, even when it's time.

I'll be okay. I just need to jump back in to my current WIP after a (much needed) week long vacation. My life is going through lots of changes right now. It's nice to have my writing as a constant, as the one thing in my life that isn't going away. Right now I'm reading Stephen King's On Writing and loving it. That man is my hero. I'm hoping for a little bit of inspiration.

Stay cool out there y'all. This weather is not good for a woman who sweats at the drop of a hat. I've begun carrying deodorant with me everywhere. Sexy, no?