Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What I should be doing

As a writer, there are things that people love to tell us to do. I think this partly stems from one of two ideas: writing is easy, and writers are robots, methodically turning out words in perfect order (ha! I just had to wipe away a tear that made me laugh so hard). I’m only seeing this side of it so much because my family can’t quite pick up on the idea that I finished a novel and it wasn’t published the next day (or week or year), and why do I need to start writing another one. While I do devote many hours to writing, often missing sleep, or skipping tv shows or even time in the hot tub, I am not a machine.

In fact, I’m pretty human with all the silly problems that come with being human. Yes, I’d love to be able to work at a 6K a day pace, or revise faster than I draft, or—for the sweet love of chocolate—give a polish read that is faster than 15 pages a day (I shake my fists at thee, oh great slower of my productivity).

So what I should be doing? I should be writing. It’s what we should all be doing.

What have I been doing? Well, I’ve been writing. I’ve also been obsessively checking twitter and query tracker and watching some of my favorite tv shows (how did I go so long without knowing about Idol!!!!). I’m dancing. I’m practicing dancing. I’m drooling over shoes for dancing. And I’m going to tumblr. Then, after being well marinated in procrastination, I write. Sometimes the writing goes well, sometimes it’s crap. Sometimes I land 6K in a day, and sometimes I’m pleased with six words (okay, reality check: I’m never, EVER, pleased with six words. I find that sort of pace torturously slow, and I have no patience for it. Those writers who do and can? Saints, pure and simple, and I’m not a saint).

What are your thoughts? Do you procrastinate much? Do you obsessively follow something that if you could give it up, you’d suddenly have a bazillion more hours in the day to do everything else (you know, like fold laundry and write books?).

Monday, February 17, 2014

Writer links and stuff you should be following

I've been researching agents and publishing for a long time. I'm not saying that to brag (I mean, really, it would be bragging to say "I tripped over this awesome agent and contract without knowing anything!" but that hasn't been my path). When I first started out, I didn't really think I had a chance, so I really did everything by the seat of my pants. I queried the first agent who came up in my google search for a literary agent.

No really. I'm lucky that it was an agent who popped up on my list, but it could have just as easily been a scammer. After sacrificing that novel on the altar of naivety, I got wise and started doing my research. I realize that many people already know about these resources, but I never know when someone is going to stumble across my blog. So if you're looking for information on agents and some bits of publishing, check out these links.

Shipping & Handling, a podcast by two agents. You can download their episodes here. Why do I think it's important? These two agents (Bridget Smith and Jennifer Udden) talk about books, publishing and craft. You can send in questions, and they might just answer those questions. I love that they talk about what they love about books, and it really gives us writers a glimpse into the agenting world.

Query Tracker is one of those great places where writers can comment on agents. It's not as good as some places with an iron clad moderation, but with a bit of common sense, you can probably figure out which agents have trouble. Admittedly, some times a writer is bitter and the comments go south fast. I suggest that you use your discretion when posting and believing others on open forums.

Michelle Hauck runs a set of interviews called query questions where she asks agents about some of the most commonly fretted over issues in querying. I find these interviews particularly useful because she straight up asks them about the questions that every writer has gone insane over.

Krista Van Dolzer has a whole slew of agent interviews, but these ones you should be careful with. Some of the interviews are pretty dated. They make an excellent starting point, but in some cases, the agents have moved or left the business. Be careful and always do a separate search on agents to find where they are now!

I feel like I can't have a link post without mentioning Absolute Write. I like absolute write, but in the comments on agents section, there tends to be a lot of meanies and trolls. I don't really know why, but the trolls are particularly vigorous around the agent threads. In other parts of Absolute Write, the writers are really great and super supportive--some of my favorite forums!--but like any city, there are parts of town that you should carry a flashlight when you go into.

And lastly, you should always check Preditors and Editors. Some of their stuff might not be up to date with the newer agents, but the newer agents should be from agencies listed and rated at P&E.

I think I'm going to call it there. There are tons and tons of resources, but those are a great set to get a writer started. Feel free to leave your favorites in the comments (yes, even you totally published and successful people of awesome!).

Monday, February 10, 2014

Care to dance? (hint, the answer is always YES!)

So I’ve been learning to dance with my Mom (you know the woman who has read every book in the store—okay, not anymore, but for a long time sci fi and fantasy didn’t produce enough books for her reading enjoyment, so she read out the mystery section as well). She’s been dancing for a while and I’m the n00b. And it’s a blast. The first two weeks were pretty nerve wracking, but after I started to know people’s names, and it’s been a blast.

Whenever you first learn something, you’re just in a panic. For me, that panic was trying to decode what the leaders were trying to tell me to do. The biggest problem when you start out is that if you have any sense of rhythm, people assume you know how to dance, so they try their moves on you. For many people, this was a disaster. I just didn’t know the language.

But for some leaders, they could just spin me out and do a whip and—by pure magic—I followed! I mean they were doing things I just didn’t know how to do, but the cues they gave were so perfect that there was nothing other than the right move as an option.

As you can imagine, this was confusing that sometimes dancing was easy (and awesome!), and sometimes I was completely toe tied. After a few more lessons, I was able to figure more of it out and do more with the leads that weren’t as obvious (note, I didn’t say as good, I said not as obvious). That’s when it hit me that dancing is like writing. Ever read that book where you thought you understood it, but there was doubt? Yeah, that was a book that either you didn’t come to it with the right background, or the writer didn’t give you a good enough lead to follow them through the story.

Oh, and the other rule of dancing: It’s the leader’s fault. Something goes wrong? Leader’s fault. Miss a turn? Yeah, the leader didn’t lead it right. (hint, if you’re the writer, you’re the leader: it’s your fault when the reader doesn’t follow you)

In some styles of dance, the lead is in close contact the whole time. The contact is so constant and close, that the follower has no option but to do as directed by the leader (it is a partnership and they wouldn’t want to do anything else anyways). In other dances, the lead is with a couple of fingers, and that’s because everything is so fast that anymore contact would get in the way.

And that’s where the trouble comes. I definitely write like a two fingered lead. I’ve always known this, but there are moments in the dance where I could pause, and my followers (the readers) could catch a breath and know they were on steady ground before spinning off into the action.

What are your thoughts on letting the reader catch their breath?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

IWSG How did I end up with the cliche insecurity?

Insecure Writer's Support Group is a blog hop brought into the world by the Amazing Ninja Captain, AKA Alex Cavanaugh. If you haven't heard of IWSG, then check out Alex's blog before hopping on Mr. Linky and taking a spin through the insecurities of writers. This month Alex has some Ninja lieutenants helping him out, Sheena-kay Graham, Julie Musil, Jamie Ayres, and Mike Swift, so be sure to give them a wave and a smile.

So what's been eating me? You know, the usual. I'm always worried that I won't "make it." Yeah, you heard me, I even put it in tacky quotes. I feel like it's the stupidest insecurity to have. It's not very original for starters (I mean really, what if my secret insecurity was that I was really afraid of an alien invasion like that one in my dreams where the aliens would take over people, but you couldn't tell until they spoke and a single bell tone came out of their mouth before they exploded, sometimes killing people in the blast radius--now that would be an awesome insecurity). But everyone wallows in the "What if I never make it?" doldrums. It's right up there with runners complaining about big thighs and blisters on their feet.

And worse, it's completely illogical. I've already set the phasers to kill, I'm not stopping short of "getting there" (wherever that is). It's not like I'm afraid of failure. I've already been to the top of Ruined Dreams Hill (the view isn't as spectacular as you'd hope, but it's good for getting your bearings). For All that Is Chocolate, I built a log cabin up there and spent the better part of a year being an idiot, so by all rights, it's sort of comfortable up there in Delusions of Adequacy land. So if I'm so comfortable with my ability to fail, and I've already laid out the plan and promised myself that this is the dream where I get to be stubborn like a llama*, then why am I worried about never reaching my writing goals?

No amount of No is going to stop me. So why?

It's an odd trait of the human condition, but no matter how determined and how much grit, even the strongest, bravest, and most stubborn of us all would like to know that our work will pay off. And let's face it, writers have a ton of writing they have to do before any pay off. It's hard to have faith as a writer when all the doors say no, so here it is, here's how we are going to make our writer goals come true. You ready?

If you are just starting out: give yourself a pat on the back. Every journey begins with a single step, but if you never start, you will never finish. I know well over a hundred people who have told me that they are going to write a novel but never have. So good job, you've started. Now, get back to writing.

If you've finished your first novel: Congratulations! That's hard (and I'm not being patronizing, that is hard, like pull your hair out hard). Give yourself a well deserved toast. Now, get back to writing.

If you've signed with an agent/your dream publisher/released your book through Flavor of the Month Indie Publisher: Super Congratulations! Those are major milestones! There are heaps and heaps of people who didn't make it this far. Fear held them back, or maybe some other insecurity (those aliens, I tell you!) kept them from The End, but not you. And you've hit some big time publishing goals. Awesome! Now, get back to writing.

Because making it is really about sticking it out. If you refuse to stop writing, strive to learn your craft, and keep moving forward, your writing goals will come true. That's the formula: Write, Craft, Learn, Revise, Repeat as necessary. It's simple, but hard (hint: most good advice is simple but hard).

*About llamas and stubborn. People always associate donkeys or mules with stubbornness, but let me be the first to tell you that llamas are smart, and they don't mind telling you when you're wrong. They do not change this opinion, and when you are spectacularly wrong, they go on strike by folding up their legs and sitting on the ground. When you argue, they spit in your face, and that spit, well, it's more like spit up if you catch my drift. If you don't catch my drift I might have to make another post from those years on the farm.