Ernest Hemingway:

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

Thursday, September 20, 2012

query. say it. now wash your mouth out with soap.

Ugh. Go ahead. Say it like a bad word - I do. Query, query, query. I've read so many how-tos, so many sample queries, I've even spent quite a bit of time critiquing them. And still, I have no idea how to write them. I honestly wonder if I'll ever know. I think one day I'm just going to get lucky, and that's it. I won't print out the query and hang it up as an shining example of what's good and right. No, not at all. Because on that day the worlds  will just happen to line up the right way and that's it.

I've submitted queries to a handful of sites, and come back with none of the same comments. In fact, most of the time the comments are in direct contradiction. I've had my writing chewed up and spit out and stomped on, sometimes in a helpful manner, and sometimes not. And let me tell you - nothing gets me more than a bunch of know-it-alls sitting around and tearing the hell out of a query just for sport. Yes, those sites exist. It's nauseating to think at one point I actually thought they were helpful.

This is my conclusion on the nasty, abhorrent query. If the novel is written well and the story is enticing, then assuming the query is written in the same vein, it'll be fine. You'll get some rejections, yes, but you'll also get some interest. Because if the story is good, and the query reflects that, then a fantastic hook won't matter. If you end it with a question, that's okay. If it's a bit too long or too short, again, you're fine. Do those things help? Sure. But I'm a big believer in the idea that if an agent refuses to read my query because I end it with a question, or because it's fifty words too long, then I don't want that agent anyway. What a miserable SOB.

Stay within the general guidelines of course. Don't write a five hundred word query. But I've written enough to know that if the query gets no bites, then it's not the query. It's the novel. Too many times I've sent out queries to no avail only to realize it's my manuscript that needs major work, and the query reflects that.

Bottom line? Don't stress about the query. Worry about the manuscript. Have people read it and really give you helpful critique. Don't be afraid to ask. This is your baby. Don't take a chance on sending queries on a manuscript that hasn't been critiqued only to change it and realize you've used up all of the agents on the top of your wishlist. Spend your energy making sure your manuscript is fantastic, well-written, and formatted properly. I guarantee if you succeed at this your query will be just fine.

And if no one wants your baby? Well, then go indie. But if you do that make damn sure it's ready. Because even worse than sending out a query for a manuscript that needs work is actually publishing it. Yikes.

Of course, this all comes from a woman who hasn't published anything. So as usual take it with a grain of salt.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

some suggested reading

Last week the lovely and talented Julie recommended a book. It's 'Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View'. I probably would have thought harder about buying it, but it's $2.99. In the end, I'm glad I did.

Though I knew most everything in the book intrinsically, I'd let some of these techniques and practices slip by the wayside. It's a fast read, and doing the exercises is helpful. I'd been trying to express to a few critique partners the importance of writing this way, but didn't have any type of terminology for it. I called it 'active' vs. 'passive' writing. 

So for example, let's pretend we're writing a story from Bob's point of view. Instead of saying 'Bob saw Mike hide the mustard.', we'd say 'Mike hid the mustard.' We're seeing the world through Bob's eyes, right? If the point of view is written correctly, then we already assume Bob saw Mike do it. It takes the reader out of the action and separates them from the inner thoughts and sights of the main character by adding 'saw'. Or 'heard'. Or 'felt'. So in essence, you're deepening the relationship with the main character and his/her point of view by putting the reader directly inside his/her head.

Not to mention, using words like 'felt' is lazy anyway. 'Bob felt happy.' It's the age old lesson of show vs. tell.

Anyway, this post turned into a quick lesson about a common mistake made by writers instead of a recommendation to go and buy this book. Will it change your life? No. But it will make you look more closely at your writing, and that's never a bad thing. 

And besides, if you expect something that costs $2.99 to change your life, well, then you're beyond my help.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

words to live by

Recently heard this in an Amos Lee song:

But sometimes,
We forget what we got,
Who we are.
Oh who we are not.

And sometimes, I hear lyrics that simply kick my ass. I've heard this song quite a few times, but the words didn't resonate until today. Maybe it was just the timing, maybe now they make sense in a way they didn't before.

I mean, lots of times we forget what we got, mostly because we're too distracted with what we don't got. Expensive cars. Big houses. Designer wardrobes. It can be very hard to see the forest for the trees.

I rarely forget who I am, though after my recent job situation, it can get a bit hazy. It's hardest for me to remember that something good is right around the corner. I sometimes tend to wallow in the present, in what's not happening, only to wake up and have my dreams come true. But for me, remembering who I am is the easiest part. This only came, however, after at least thirty years of having no idea. Comfort and content often comes with a price.

But it's the last piece that kicks my ass. Because yes, often times we forget who we are not.

I don't know, maybe it's the fact that I'm critiquing the work of a few lovely, talented ladies, so I've got critiquing on the mind, but lately it seems I'm constantly amazed at the good it's done me in my life to be able to accept criticism. To be able to admit mistakes. To be able to realize I have bitten off more than I can chew at times, pretended I could do it anyway, and failed miserably.

We as a people are taught we can do anything. You want to be an astronaut, princess? Well then go for it! The world is your playground. Don't get me wrong. We all want to teach our children that with hard work and dedication there's a chance you can do anything you want.

But to me, the much more valuable lesson is teaching them that they have limitations. Try things, and if it doesn't work out, then try something else. My daughter wants to take ballet lessons. And let me be clear - she's four. So she didn't ask me. But she loves books about ballet, shows about ballet, so I offered the possibility for her to take classes. So we'll try it. I'm not sure how good she'll be, or that she'll even like it. Or heck, maybe she'll love it. As a parent, it's my job to give her options. But it's also my job to guide her if it isn't working out.

She might want to be a cowboy when she grows up. I can giggle with her about it, talk about what the job might be like, but in reality, I'm going to steer her towards a more realistic occupation.

Because a big part of life is realizing who we aren't. And a big part of that is asking for help when we get to a task that isn't part of who we are. And realizing that there are people out there who are better than you at some things. All too often we let our egos get in the way, let our unrealistic definition of the 'American Dream' cloud our judgement. 

The most important thing in life is realizing when we fall short. And asking for help. And learning everything we can from that help, making us better in the long run. Be humble. Learn from others. Don't get angry when people offer constructive criticism, or suggestions, or help in getting you back on the right path.

If you approach the world with open eyes, open ears, and open hearts, well, then you're doing it right. And it's going to show in your friendships, your work, and everything else.