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Category Archives: Deadlines

Performance Pressure and the Diamond in the Manuscript

20130125-172029.jpgHave you ever finished writing a manuscript, and after months of blood, sweat, and tears, you realize that even after all that work, your story doesn’t look at all like you imagined it in your head? In fact, after a second glance, you’re sure a toddler temporarily overtook your brain and scribbled 400 pages of crayon doodles? Of course you have…you’re a writer. You’ve probably felt that way about everything you’ve ever written…like I have.

Up until this point in my writing “career,” that hasn’t mattered much. Mostly my readers have been friends and writing groups. I post fiction online too but even in that venue, readers are generally pretty forgiving. Not so with publishing industry professionals. There is very little room for mistakes and if you make them, they better be small. Tiny. Miniscule. Talk about pressure.

Getting in the (Publishing) Game

Over the next couple of weeks I’m preparing for my first writing contest ever. I’m talking the big deal with two rounds, multiple judges, announcement of the finalists at the next conference, and the final round judged by editors of major publishing houses. Yeah…that kind of scary.

It’s an exciting adventure to be sure, a thrill to imagine where it could lead. The final judge for my category is an editor at Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Never before has every word, every period, and every character of my manuscript been under such scrutiny. Sometimes the anxiety to get it all right leaves me panic stricken. I only get one chance to put my best work in front of this woman who could potentially be my gateway into the holy land.

Previously, I’ve never had a reason to get this far into the process of editing. I guess I always imagined entering the chaos of the publishing world as something that would happen way down the road. Like, way down. I’ve taken my time, learning more about this, fiddling with that, but after five years of writing, getting critiqued, editing, and dreaming, it’s time to dive in, sink or swim. So despite my fear, I’m going through the first 20 pages of my manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. I’ve re-understood my characters, re-worked motivations, re-invented the details, and rewritten this novel so many times that I have more loose ends than the hem of grandma’s skirt.

Upping the Ante

Before I started this final-for-now edit, I had a long brainstorming session with my writing partners and nailed down what was working and what wasn’t, for better or worse. The time for flip-flopping has come and gone. And now, with that focus in mind, I’m sifting out the dirt and looking for the gems. And you know what? They are there. Actually, never before have they shined brighter. And I don’t think anything less than the pressure to perform at my best would have gotten me here.

I’m the ultimate perfectionist at heart, especially when it comes to my writing. I think every artist is that way. But putting myself in this position has taught me that I know more than I ever realized about who I am as a writer, what I want to bring to this ever expanding sea of literature, what my writing voice sounds like, what I can accomplish when I put my mind to it, and what process works best for me. The deadline and the stakes have forced me to stopped questioning myself and realize the truths that were already there, clouded by the uncertainty an unlimited time frame allows.

Get Out There

Do it. I know you’re scared. I know you don’t think you’re ready. Guess what–just like getting married and having kids–you’re never going to be ready. You learn as you go. Underneath all those scribbles is your story, and as soon as you trust yourself enough to find it, you will. Make the decision. Raise the stakes. And watch yourself rise to the occasion.

What’s holding you back from taking the next step? Or, what deadlines are you working toward? What steps have you taken that have forced you to grow as a writer?

Photo by Steve Jurvetson

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Accepting Who YOU Are as a Writer

IMG_20121204_171949‘Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.’-Bruce Lee

I’ve been struggling with plotting and drafting the sequel to Pretty Dark Nothing. There, I’ve said it. I am wrestling with myself and my story. My confidence is through the roof one minute and in the ditch the next. There has been much gnashing of teeth and eating of chocolate as I struggle, yet again, with my drafting process. I need to write faster, push harder, and put more words on the page. I know this. I WANT this. No, what I really want is to go back to revising. I LOVE revisions. I want to LOVE drafting, but it kills me. I struggle with this every single day. I watch as others zoom past me on a caffeine high, cranking out words like there’s no tomorrow, and I envy them. I envy their ability to free themselves from their inner editor and throw words on the page and worry about it later. All I can do is worry about it now. Always. Every word, every second, every time. Worry. Obsess. And the more I look at other writers, writing, pushing, getting words on the page, the worse I feel about myself, my process. I show up every day, why don’t the words flow like that for me? Don’t the words know I have a deadline?

Last week, in the midst of another day of self-deprecation, I had a light bulb moment. I was asked to take a personality test at work to learn what my DISC style was to help me as my new management role. I’m not new to personality tests, I’ve always loved reading about different personality types and how they react to situations. In fact, I’ve even given my characters personality tests to help me get to know them better, to help them feel real to me. But I digress, that’s another post for another day.

While the test didn’t reveal anything particularly new, it did make me start thinking about writing as an extension of my personality. Writing is personal. It’s unique to each of us, like our personality. It’s more than being a plotter, panster, or plotster. Yes, we might fit into one of those categories, but it’s much more than that. Our basic traits influence how we see the world, how we react to stress, to deadlines, to each other. It’s tied to the very core of our creative process.

For example, I learned that I’m a perfectionist, detail oriented, and in the words of the analyst ‘like a dog with a bone’. Yeah, I can be a bit obsessive and it’s hard for me to let things go. That’s great for revising, but not so great for drafting. In order to get through draft zero, I have to accept this about myself and learn to manage the fear of ‘not getting it right the first time’. I have to work at a slower pace, allow my perfectionist side some room to obsess over word choice while pushing forward. It’s about time in the chair and not how many words I put on the page. I have to remind myself that this personality trait also means I always make my deadlines. It also means that I rock revisions, so I have to make ‘it’s ok, you’ll fix it later’ my mantra, and believe it.

I’m not saying you should run out and take a personality test in order to become a better writer. But I am suggesting that instead of looking at the world from the outside in, at other writers and what they’re doing, writers should always be looking from the inside out. Knowing who you are and how you work is imperative to being the best writer you can be. Don’t fear your uniqueness, your creativity, your process. Accept who YOU are as a writer, not who you think you should be or who others tell you to be.

What about you? Do you compare yourself to other writers or have you accepted who you are as a writer?

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2012 in Deadlines, Motivation, Uncategorized, Writing

 

How to NaNoWriMo During Thanksgiving

Here in the US, Thanksgiving is celebrated on November 22nd this year–right as National Novel Writing Month participants are rounding the corner to the finish line. Thanksgiving may very well be one of the most demanding holidays of the year between the cooking, visiting families (many times, more than one!), turkey comas, and festivities that can last an entire four day weekend. For some “Wrimos” this is the point where they give up the goal and resolve to do better next year. But it doesn’t have to be.

In general, NaNoWriMo is easier done in small chunks rather than sitting down and trying to write it all at once, and this is a good thing for fitting it in during the holiday weekend. It helps if you start by knowing how much writing you can accomplish in 15 or 20 minutes. On average, I can write about 500 words in that time frame, though if I’m in the groove, I can write as much as 750 (or as low as 250 if I’m struggling). But if I use 500 as my average, I know I can accomplish my daily word count in 3 or 4 short writing sessions. With that in mind, here are some ways to fit those short sessions into even the busiest days.

  1. If you’re hosting. This is probably the most difficult of all situations–being in charge of all, if not most, cooking, entertaining all your crazy relatives, and waiting on them hand and foot. Try to get as much writing done before and after they come over. Something I’ve really enjoyed doing lately is taking my laptop into the kitchen with me. If you have your novel file open while you’re working, you can brainstorm while you cook and then write for ten minutes or so after you finish cooking each dish. Be sure to plan for a little extra time in the kitchen for this and use your microwave timer to time your sprints.
  2. If you’re visiting family. Take advantage of travel time! This year I am going to my husband’s aunt’s house who lives 1 1/2 hours away. That’s three hours total of driving time and plenty of time to get some serious words in. If you’re traveling by plane, even better! If possible, go to the airport a little earlier and use the time while you wait to board the plane.
  3. If you will have or will be an overnight guest. Create a quiet, comfortable place in your bedroom (either at your house or theirs) to escape to every couple of hours for fifteen or twenty minutes. Head to bed a little early or wake up a little early to get some words in while no one is even missing you.
  4. If you watch football. Easy–commercial breaks and half time. You can even create a game out of it using the score.
  5. If you shop on Black Friday. Take your laptop with you and write for ten minutes in your car before each new store.
  6. If you can make it to write-ins. Even though it’s a holiday weekend, there will very likely still be write-ins to attend in your area. Get in touch with your region on the NaNoWriMo website and make plans to escape the madness for 2 or 3 hours. Sprints with other Wrimos are an easy way to rack up large word counts in short periods of time.

No, my dearest Chris Baty clearly wasn’t worried about cooking and shopping when he chose November to host NaNoWriMo, but it is what it is. And even so, thousands of people still win every year. As long as you don’t give up, you can be one of them. I hope these suggestions help you through the busy weekend and I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving!

Photo by Vision Freak

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2012 in Deadlines, NaNoWriMo, Writing

 

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Even if You’re not Doing NaNoWriMo: A Challenge

It’s almost November, and for many writers, the beginning of a month filled with too much caffeine, frozen pizza, and questionable hygiene. That’s right–NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. If you’ve never joined in the madness, you may want to look into it. But, just like everything else in life, it’s not for everyone, and that’s okay.

One thing I really love about NaNo is the sense of community and excitement. Those two things alone are so inspiring. And let’s face it, there’s something comforting about knowing there are other writers out there who are working toward the same immediate goal as you.

Some writers use the month of November to edit instead of draft. Some use it to finish a manuscript they’ve been holding on to for a long time, but have never gotten around to finishing. What I’m getting at is, even if you don’t want to participate in NaNo, I encourage you to use the 30 days to do something with your writing. Take advantage of the NaNo atmosphere and energy. Thousands of people do NaNo each year–make them your accountability partners for a month.

I have some hefty goals for the month of November. I plan on finishing my revisions on my YA horror novel and hopefully drafting another novel. We’ll see how much I get done, but I’m hopeful 🙂

What are your goals for the month of November?

 

Are you rising to the NaNoWriMo challenge?

Next month sees the start of National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo. I’m going to assume most of you know what NaNo is but for those who don’t, here’s gist of it.

Thousands of writers from around the world will attempt to write a 50 000 word novel during the month of November(or more if they are so inclined to). Crazy right? Right. But then, all us writing folk have a little crazy in us that we hide from society on good days. During November, not so much. It’s all about the crazy then.

My bio here says that I’m a huge fan of NaNo so it’s with a sad heart that I write this post today. Because I will not be doing NaNo this year for the simple fact that I have too many completed novels and none of them ready to be thrown into the query trenches. The worst thing I can do now is write a whole new novel to add to that pile. Sometimes I don’t like logical me. Right now I’m doing a last round of revisions on the novel I started during last year’s NaNo which makes this a bitter sweet time for me. What I will be is a NaNo rebel. I might finish the last 25k of the novel I started in 2010 and will finish the 2nd draft of a novel I wrote a few months ago.

But you! You get to do it. If you decided to participate this year, you get to be a part of this madness and I envy you. I’m positively green with it! I’m well aware that NaNo isn’t for everybody. One of my CPs tried it last year and said that the pressure of getting it done was too much. She’s the kind of writer who likes to take time and think as she writes and that makes for a bad partner when it comes to writing 50 000 words in 30 days if you don’t have a system/structure in place. I understand that.

For some reason the NaNo hate was extra obvious last year.  Maybe I shouldn’t say hate, and instead dislike.  I read a few posts where the writer/author/observer was dismissive, deriding, and sometimes disrespectful of those participating. Ugh. I don’t have time for that. BUT! The support was loud enough to drown out a stadium of crazed, soccer-obsessed fans, and that made me smile and think, I’m proud to be one of those crazed fans. I loved seeing all the NaNo posts and updates in my reader whenever I took a few minutes to scan through it.

I love NaNo because it’s a challenge. And if there’s one thing I can’t resist it’s a challenge. I love the community and how extra small the world feels during November. The rush of being on deadline is something I thrive on as well. The abandon with which I get to write, leaving the editing and revising and worrying that there’s more wrong with this story than right for later.

This is a good time to prove to yourself that you don’t need to be inspired to write. Writers write, with or without their muses. It’s as simple as that. If all of us waited for inspiration to strike we’d never get anything done. And if you’re one of those people who’s inspired all the time, I envy you. Hand over what you’re drinking, I want some of that too 😉 .

The support is amazing. AMAZING. There are so many other writers attempting this that you will never be alone, especially if you’re part of the Twitter writing community. There’s always somebody willing to kick your behind when you feel like slacking or giving up. It makes a difference.

At the end of the day, if you take a logical approach to writing your novel, it’s definitely doable. Think about it like this. If you do four sprints with a target of 500 words in each sprint, you’ll have about 2k at the end of the night. That’s about 300 words more than the intended 1 777 words you need to write a day. If you’ve plotted your novel, or are a pantser like me but know exactly where your story is headed, this shouldn’t be too difficult. There will be plenty of word wars and writing sprints happening on twitter and facebook, so there really is no excuse for not giving it your best shot.

Even if you don’t finish or hit 50 000 words by the end, you started a new novel. That’s 15 000 words you didn’t have. That’s 23 000 words that you wouldn’t have written. That’s insane and awesome and great and fantastic all at the same time! You are a rock star for even starting! Well done, you.

I’ll just sit here with my puppy eyes and sad smile while everybody else writes with no restraint. I’ll bring you chocolate, coffee, cookies, bacon, and whatever else you need to keep yourself motivated. I love motivating people, so if you need the kick, my right foot is all yours. Just let me know 😀

On that note, here are some links to help you out. Some of them are from a few years ago but they still apply:

NaNoWriMo – Should You Join in the Silliness? 9 Reasons to Consider it – Anne R Allen

Maureen Johnson: Your NaNoWriMo Questions Answered.  There are a lot of helpful tips, go have a read.

So who’s doing NaNo? Will you be doing it as a rebel or going full out?
 
 

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Cursing the Blank Page

The cursor winks, mocking me as it looms above the blank page.

“Come on. Do it. Write something.”

Dark and evil it blinks, a beacon of my own inadequacy, each beat a challenge.

“I dare you.”

Fear grips me, anger too.  My mind is blank. I wipe sweat from my forehead with a sleeve. I take a sip of water, to ease the dryness in my mouth. Ideas swirl through my thoughts, I grab at them, one by one examining them in my mind, then throw each back into the ether. None of them are good enough. None of them worthy of the demands of that damned cursor. I curse. Damn you. I look at the clock. 12:20 pm. Time and the cursor are in cahoots with their taunts.

I have deadlines! All I really want to do is give the cursor the finger, escape into a game of Skyrim, and devour a bar of chocolate.

“Quitter.” The cursor sneers.

Heat rises in my cheeks. I grit my teeth. I am not a quitter.

There’s only one thing that can guarantee our failure, and that’s if we quit.–Craig Breedlove

The cursor stares at me, shocked.

Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I start to write.

Keep on beginning and failing. Each time you fail, start all over again, and you will grow stronger until have accomplished a purpose – not the one you began with perhaps, but one you’ll be glad to remember.–Anne Sullivan

Word by word.

Other people and things can stop you temporarily. You’re the only one who can do it permanently. –Zig Ziglar

I will not let the blank page, that blinking cursor, win.

All that is necessary to break the spell of inertia and frustration is this: Act as if it were impossible to fail. That is the talisman, the formula, the command of right about-face which turns us from failure to success.–Dorthea Brande

Act as if it were impossible to fail, act as if it were impossible to fail, act as if it were impossible to fail…the mantra for today. The thing that’s getting me through this blank page is the encouragement found in the words and the works of others. It’s the friends that I’ve made online, the support from my peers and family and the belief that I have a calling. This passion for the written word isn’t for naught. There is poetry in my soul aching to be released. I must learn to trust it. I grab onto that idea. I hold it close and let it feed me the determination to never give up, to act as if it were impossible to fail. I open myself up and let the words pour onto the page, without fear, without limits. What is there to lose?

You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.–Beverly Sills

What talisman or formula do you use to break the inertia and frustration of the blank page? I would love to hear your thoughts. Keep writing, all! Harness the poetry and the passion in your soul and never give up.

 

Is my Novel Adult, Young Adult, New Adult….or?

First, I want to apologize for being somewhat absent. Life has been…interesting lately. I wish it were full of awesome and wonderful things, but unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Just know that I’m here, rooting for everyone, loving you all, and hoping for a better tomorrow.

Second, the picture I used for this post strikes me as funny. I don’t know why, but hopefully you’ll laugh, too.

Now that’s out of the way, I want to touch on genre and target audience. I say “touch” because this is a conversation that could go on and on.

A lot of writers don’t know what type of book they are actually writing. That’s okay! You’ve spent your time writing your book, polishing it (the important parts), and now you’re ready to send your baby out into the world. Well, how do you market it? Which agents/publishers do you target? Would you send an agent who clearly states they do not rep young adult your novel about a sixteen-year-old girl who is trying to swim through the ocean of adolescence? Probably not.

A good rule of thumb is to look at your main character’s age. Are they ten to fourteen? It’s probably middle grade. Are they fourteen to eighteen? Then you’re probably looking at a young adult audience. Let me go ahead and state that “young adult” isn’t actually a genre–it’s a marketing term. The target audience is fourteen to eighteen (although statistically, more women ages twenty to forty buy the majority of young adult books).

Well, you say, my main character is eighteen (or insert any age here), but the issues are clearly meant for an adult. This can all be a bit confusing. Look at George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones or Room by Emma Donoghue. George Martin has several main characters who fall into the young adult category, but the overall theme of the book is definitely meant for a mature audience, and it’s marketed as adult epic/high fantasy. Room is told from the point of view of a five-year-old. But it is marketed as a piece of literary fiction.

The rules aren’t crystal clear. You will have to do some research to figure out where your book best fits in the market and find which readers will best connect to your book. Knowing your genre is important, but it’s also important to write a good book. If you’ve written, workshopped, edited, rewritten, and polished until you think you can’t polish anymore–you’re going to have a good piece of fiction (or non-fiction) on your hands. People of all ages will want to buy your book because it’s a good book.

 

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