Writing isn't the hard part
Surprisingly, the hardest part of writing, is not writing. In Amy Poehler's Yes Please, she titles her preface "Writing is Hard". But even as she talks about this, she says she can write a scene or skit in record time. Because putting the words down on the page is not always the most challenging part. It's everything that comes with it, after it, that can be soul-sucking hard. But if you want it, like really want to hold your book in your hands (and yes, e-books count), you have to accept that no matter how easily the words come, there is so much more to writing a story than getting words on a page.
Not gonna lie: EDITING IS HARD. It feels like putting together a 1000 piece puzzle, knocking it over, and starting again. But not being allowed to put the pieces back in the same order you did last time. And maybe not using all of the same pieces. And maybe not even using the same puzzle. Sometimes it's like scrapping the first puzzle, except for the corner pieces, and going with a brand new one. You're not even sure it's possible to do that. Because IT'S HARD. But it's satisfying to see something that you love, a piece of you, become something more, something bigger. Something that elicits all of the feelings in your readers that you meant to. And, rarely can you do that the first time around.
Making connections without being annoying
I'm still working on this one. I've made so many amazing and wonderful connections and I don't use those words lightly. The people I've met since I started writing are so supportive- offering advice and feedback and direction. I've developed what I know will be lifelong friendships with many people and there are many that I truly hope to meet in real life. However, I often feel like the tag along, the third wheel, the annoying girl who asks a deliberately complicated question in class when the professor says you can go early if there's no more questions. NO ONE HAS MADE ME FEEL THIS WAY. Which reminds me that my biggest problem is that I find myself annoying. I can't get out of my brain and it would likely be awkward if I did. So I annoy myself and then read into every little thing that means nothing and end up annoying myself more. Make connections. Be yourself. Chances are good, most people will like us just fine. Trust them. They're cool people that you admire and they don't have to help you. Most people engage and connect because they want to. And if you're genuine, open, and considerate, there's really no reason that they would find you a nuisance. Unless you're being annoying.
Listening to feedback AND ACTUALLY USING IT
This is a funny one because I didn't think I was bad at listening to or using feedback. When someone would say that I might want to change something or rethink it, I'd simply tell them why that's not what worked in my story. I listened. I heard. And they were wrong. I have improved in this area. Mostly. It is hard to take feedback and even harder to change things in a story that matters to you. But those people above, that you trust and admire? If they're willing to give you their opinion, listen. If your best friend is an insatiable reader and gets stuck on your plot line and wants you to succeed so therefore mentions it, LISTEN. You don't have to take all the advice or everyone's advice. But you have to be open about accepting constructive criticism if you really intend to grow and actually want to sell your work. If you believe the support group you have wants the best for you, then trust them. But trust yourself too. Ultimately, the story is yours. But if you plan to share it, you have to see it from other points of view.
I write notes to my daughters on their bathroom mirror every week. Sometimes I use erasable marker, sticky notes, or scraps of paper. Words matter. I love them. So I share them with my girls in this way and many others. This week I wrote, "If you tell yourself you can't do something, you won't. So tell yourself you can." That sounds all poetic and inspiring (and hopefully they're not someone else's words-- if they are, thank you for the quote) but if you were to check my iMessages, Facebook messages, or Twitter direct messages from this week, you would see the irony in ME writing that quote. Because in the last couple weeks, I've told myself repeatedly that I can't. Amy Poehler has a chapter about the plain girl versus the demon. The demon is the voice we all have that makes us feel negative about ourselves. (BTW: this is such an awesome chapter of writing. You should read it.) The thing about that voice is, you have to make them be quiet. They won't all the time, but you at least have to try to talk over it. One thing I realized is that I was measuring my success in the wrong way. Instead of letting all of the things that are happening sink in, instead of truly celebrating, my mean voice keeps telling me all of the things I have not yet achieved. I have a book coming out in April with my co-writer, Kara Leigh Miller. We have a second one coming out later in the year (if she'd just focus-- don't worry, that wasn't mean. She will laugh). And I have a picture book coming out in January 2016. My mean voice shouldn't get to talk for a few months at least. But it interrupts me constantly. We have to not let it.
There are thousands of quotes online about failure making you stronger, about great people before you who did not succeed the first several times they tried. Those stories are there for a reason. Instead of getting caught up in the fact that you got rejected, it's time to start asking why. I'm looking back now at a story that I love and was very personal to me. It got lots of attention and several full requests. But it ultimately got rejected. There is absolutely no point in focusing on this detail. Instead, I have to look at WHY and change it. So I'm going to go do that and if it still gets rejected, I have to decide if I want to shelve it for a while. I didn't think I could handle rejection well. But I'm doing okay. It really doesn't break you. If you want it badly enough, rejection will make you fight harder. Except on the days that it just completely sucks and you can't stay positive. Then you turn to those people that have all been there, the ones who will support you and pull you back up. Not too long ago I messaged a lovely writer friend and I didn't even say I was going to flat out quit. I was just being miserable and sad. And her message said: STEP AWAY FROM THE LEDGE. It made me laugh and I thought, not only does she get it (because that's exactly what it felt like) but she's right there. Be that person for someone else. I feel so lucky to have those people that help me face it and move on to be better. And, they make you laugh. That fixes a lot of things.
Other than actually putting the words on the page, what is the hardest part for you?
I told myself I wouldn't enter anymore contests. I was done with this route, even though I've enjoyed them. The roads we travel have a funny way of leading us where we're meant to be-- or we just tell ourselves this so it feels okay to end up where we do. I didn't enter #PitchWars last year (though I did participate in Pitmad) so I didn't really know what it was all about. You can click the link above if you'd like to find out. Basically, it's an amazing opportunity to work with a mentor-- someone who knows the ropes and wants to help you strengthen your writing (your writing that has already been edited and revised--so not your first draft) and take it to a higher level. Today, on Twitter, I saw people asking, why a mentor would give their time? I knew the answer even before reading the many replies. The writing community on Twitter is amazing. I've said before that I've never known another industry where the "competition" is also your strongest support. These people want to see you succeed. When one person does, others are genuinely happy for them. It's an amazing thing to be a part of and the fact that the mentors are willing to give that back, is not surprising to me. This is just one way I've seen the writing community give back over the last two years that I've been part of it but there are endless examples from Street Teams to giving reviews to just giving you a boost when you need one. The organization and time that goes into these things is huge---if you haven't thanked Brenda Drake for providing these opportunities, you should. I always think that we're very lucky to live in an age where so much is at our fingertips. Because of that, and because I want to share too, as others have shared with me, I'm posting some links to the sites I'll be hanging out on while I pour over my manuscript obsessively to make sure it's perfectly ready to pitch. Good luck to everyone.
Writing tips at novelicious.com I just found this site via Facebook and Twitter but I like the tips and tricks.
Brenda Drake's website will be visited frequently because it gives all the details, plus has the link to all the mentors. Click those links and check out their sites. For real. Who better to tell you what they want than the mentors themselves?
A friend once sent me a small guide with excellent tips on how to go through your manuscript. It was from this fantastic and helpful site: Inspiration for Writers
I already saw this on Twitter today but this is a link to the site that helped me write my synopsis
Honestly, one of the most helpful things to do is visit sites of writers you respect. Most of them have blogs, tips, advice. Some of my favorite helpful sites are: Daily Dahlia (obviously) Jody Hedlund, Lauren Spieller, and Ava Jae
And if you still have questions, concerns, worries, or wonders, it is not as scary as you think to reach out to anyone involved and just ask. In addition to being rather funny and charming, the people you'll meet are extremely nice. Just like one of us. ;)
Not going to lie...some days it's really hard to stay positive. There are some days that it is much harder to remind yourself of the good, pick yourself back up, tell yourself that everything will be okay. It doesn't matter what you do for a living, what you hope to achieve, the path is not always easy and some days, it seems entirely too rough. On those days, I'm inclined to stay in my bed, re-read the best parts of my favorite books, and have my children bring me diet Pepsi in bed. And waffles. Fortunately, along with the waffles and pop, my children provide perspective. While checking Pinterest today, I found the above three quotes, sent from my oldest daughter, with a note that said, "Don't give up, you'll get there. I know it." So. There's that. And for today, that's enough to hold onto.
sub·jec·tiv·i·ty [suhb-jek-tiv-i-tee] noun, plural sub·jec·tiv·i·ties for 2. 1. the state or quality of being subjective; subjectiveness. 2. a subjective thought or idea. 3. intentness on internal thoughts. 4. internal reality.
I never know how much to say about anything because sometimes you learn lessons too late, after you've already made mistakes and I don't like the idea of wrecking something for myself before it even happens. Every rejection letter that you get probably has some variation of the phrase "please continue to send your work out as my opinion is subjective". You try really hard to believe that; to tell yourself, it's just not right for that agent. Sometimes though, it's hard to keep going when that subjective opinion seems to be shared by more than a couple. It's important during the times that you feel like this to reach out to the people that will push you forward. Also, to remind yourself why you write. You also have to keep telling yourself that it really, really, truly, absolutely IS subjective. Even though I let myself believe otherwise last week, here's a look at my week to show you how I was reminded.
Monday: a kind letter from an agent saying that I write well but she didn't connect. Okay, I can handle that. I can focus on the "you write well".
Tuesday: a "your work isn't right for us" letter. Okay. Fine. Played on Facebook, connected with writer friends to remind myself that this industry is subjective. Was asked to do a review by someone I respect immensely. Okay. Because I can write. Right?
Wednesday morning: a "thank you for submitting to us but your work isn't what we're looking for" response to an email I sent YESTERDAY. Wow. Okay. Um. Maybe I need a new hobby? Or I can just read. All the time.
Wednesday evening: letter in the mail (like in an envelope and everything) from Blue Mountain Cards. The letter told me that one of the poems I had written had been chosen ("among hundreds") to move onto the next stage.
Moral? It really is a subjective industry. Overwhelmingly so. What can you do? If it matters to you, keep going. Keep writing. Connect with other writers because they have the same stories that you do. If you want it bad enough, you have to keep pushing ahead. Remind yourself of what you have done. Write it down and look at it so that the next time you wonder if you don't understand the meaning of subjective, you can read over this list of achievements and feel good. Because regardless of anything else, if you're writing, if you're connecting with other writers and improving, learning to be better, becoming better, then you are succeeding. And eventually, that persistence is going to serve you well.
The fine print
I am in no way an expert on anything...like anything at all. But I have learned a few things in the last couple of years that I wish I had known when I started thinking I wanted to get an agent or publish a book. Most of the things I've learned seem like common sense, but surprisingly, in the excitement of getting recognition for something that is so personal, we often forget what we know is just good etiquette. Along with that, I've fallen into a few 'things' that I've been fortunate enough to have far smarter people than I help me navigate my way through. So here's a pieces of not-advice-but-something-like-it from someone who is still finding their way.
If you wouldn't say it to someone's face, why would you say it online? You would absolutely think that this is just an accepted truth. However, the internet gives us a certain anonymity (or so we THINK) and there are times when people type before they think. Don't do that.
The only way you get better is by listening to the advice of others. Not everyone, but someone. You have to choose a tribe of people that you trust. That you know want what's best for you, will be honest with you, and can handle you at your worst. If you have people like that, who will read your writing and be brutally honest, with the best of intentions, then trust them. At least enough to truly consider what they're saying.
No agent is better than the wrong agent. This one sucks but it's true. These people are entering a relationship with you. Would you go into a bad relationship, JUST to be in one? There was a time I would have said yes, but as you get older, you learn to care more about your own well-being, Writing is no different. You want someone to be your champion and I am completely convinced (most days) that the right agent is going to be worth the wait.
As in life, envy gets you nowhere. It's easy to be jealous when you hear an announcement from other writers or from agents you stalk- I mean follow. But the thing is, you don't know their story. You don't know how hard their fight to get to where they are was and most of all, if they got there, then they probably had some pretty phenomenal writing. It's too hard to get somewhere in this world if your writing doesn't rise above. So they deserve it and it doesn't make you deserve it less. And, their success doesn't lessen your chances or your talent.
Go with your own style. I've been trying my hand at plotting and it just doesn't work well for me. For the co-authored book I'm working on, yes. But for my own writing, I just can't do it. At least not yet. I like to get lost in my writing and having to plan it all out first, throws me off track. I can always go back and edit and make plot points along the way. As much as I hate the term, I'm a pantser at heart. That's not right or wrong. It's just what works for me.
There's more. There's always more. But that's it for now. Nothing we do is foolproof. There's no list or step by step manual to succeed. There are things you can do to make the ride smoother but basically, you have to do what you should be doing in your life: be who you are, to the best of your ability and hope that good things come to those who wait...politely.
What I know now...didn't really help me
Last year, when I attended the Surrey International Writer's Conference, I was completely oblivious to etiquette, dos and don'ts, and who many of the agents, editors, and authors were. This year, I had a much wider awareness of all of those things and yet, I still feel like I was ill prepared to pitch. Regardless of how much you believe in your writing and your story, it is really hard to sum it up in a couple of lines in front of someone that you've admired from afar and think would be a great fit for your work. So even though I have far more knowledge this year and feel a lot stronger as a writer, I ended up looking like this in front of Carolyn Forde.
She had to prompt me to tell her what my story was about and I actually said (out loud), "I don't know what to say to you." Nice use of my ten minutes, I know. Nearing the 8 minute mark, she mentioned that I'd told her nothing about myself. I managed to tell her, without suddenly shouting it like an idiot, that I was going to be published in a Christmas anthology next month through Foreward Literary. She kindly mentioned that sharing your publishing credits is kind of important.
And let's not forget that I had the wonderful opportunity of having lunch with the lovely Michelle Johnson of Inklings Literary. She has a full of my work so I can tell you it took some effort not to shameless beg her, but instead, just enjoy her humor and company.
This doesn't include my wide-eyed wonder (ok, staring) at being in close proximity to Michael Slade, whose stories, voice and laugh I could listen to endlessly. He just seems like the kind of person you WANT to be friends with. Not me of course, because that would involve carrying on a normal conversation with him that didn't start and end with me telling him, "You're Michael Slade." Cause I'm cool like that.
In the end, I did okay. I don't think I embarassed myself too much or scared anyone off. It was nice to meet some of the people I've been chatting with via social media. It was awesome to listen to writers speak and just be in the same room with them. I had an excellent lunch and if nothing else, made a new friend. And I got a request for a full of my manuscript. I may not have been any smoother at pitching or socializing this year, but I appreciate the opportunities that arose much more than last year because I actually recognize them as that.
The difference a year makes
This time last year, we were just returning from California. We visited Disneyland and had the best trip...EVER. While there, we met up with friends and I told them that I was attending a writer's conference in October. I said that I was getting to sit down with an agent and an author to share some of my work. They said to let them know how that all worked out. September came and went in a blur, much like this one will, and in October, I attended that conference. If you've read my blog before, you know I ended up signing with an agent for my picture book: The Princess and the Please. Signing with an agent was like a catalyst for me. I had always been "a writer". But after a professional said, "I like your work enough to sign you", ideas and words exploded. Since that time, I've written 3 more picture books, a young adult novel, 2 full length novels, and a novella. That wouldn't have happened, at least not at this point in my life I don't think, if I hadn't gone to the conference last year.
Since then, I've also amicably parted ways with the agent, met a wide network of absolutely lovely, helpful people that I wish I knew in real life, not just on Twitter. I've grown stronger as a writer, listening to and accepting feedback. I've learned how to write a proper query letter, a synopsis, and what a chore editing can be. I've learned to pitch my work in 35 words, I've had requests for pages, partials, and fulls. I've received multiple rejections and learned to take the advice in them (if they had any). I learned what CP (critique partner) means and I have one. I'm even hosting a give away for the re-release of Jessa Russo's book EVER. I've become a part of an amazing writing community and learned that it's okay that I'm not yet published or still agented. I always say I started in the middle and got put back at the starting line.
In October, I'm attending a writing conference. This time, I'll have a better idea of what I'm doing so there'll be no flukes or luck. When I sit down with an agent this time, I'll know what I want and be offering them my best writing. In the last year, I've also learned that my heart lies in contemporary romance, though picture books are great fun. It'll be very interesting to see what this year brings.
While you were waiting...
This has been an interesting week for querying my contemporary romance manuscript. I've received 1 "No thanks, not for me, best of luck" rejection and 1 "The writing was clichéd and I did not connect to your main character" rejection (OUCH...that one hurt). However, in the good news column, after entering the pitch contest on Brenda Drake's website, I received three requests: one followed up by requesting the full manuscript the day after I submitted two chapters. It is quite the paradox to have two people tell you they don't want your writing while trying to convince yourself that one of three will. So I'm distracting myself in the best ways I can and thought I'd share some ways to wait because, let's face it, waiting patiently and forgetting that my manuscript is in the hands of three people that showed interest, is not going to happen.
Ten Ways to Wait
What did I miss? What do you do to keep from going crazy? There's a great line in The Search (by Nora Roberts) that I love: "[We] worked on keeping each other from going crazy." Find someone or something to help you channel the crazy that inevitably comes along with waiting. Now, taking my own advice, I'm going to go read Jill Mansel's Staying at Daisy's.
Keep anxious and carry on
Keep Calm and anything doesn't really suit my nature. I mean it when I reply to people who tell me, inanely, to 'relax' that "this is me relaxed". My brain works on overdrive all the time. A situation that would bring a few questions to mind for most people, generates hundreds of questions in my head. So, as you might guess, waiting patiently is not my thing. I think maybe, in some alternate universe where I try to see the good side, having to wait for answers about my writing is a good thing for me. I'm slowly learning that everything does not need to happen RIGHT NOW. My friend sent me a beautiful quote that, oddly enough, did making me relax a little.
I always feel like I just have this short window of opportunity to start and complete something but this a self-imposed window. I box myself in by creating deadlines or telling myself that I have something to prove. This works against you in writing. There is no time limit here and this needs to be remembered. Also, it's true when you're told that this is a subjective business. So far, for my current query, I've had a few "it's not right for me" but "perhaps another agent", rejection letters. It is hard to have someone turn down something that matters to you. In fact, I sent my best friend and husband a text earlier this week that said something along the lines of:
I don't want to do this anymore. I can't keep sending my work out there.
I, with my inability to WAIT for anything, got a little down when I entered a very cool pitch contest on Brenda Drake's website and had no immediate responses. I felt that if I got some requests, I should keep going, but if I didn't, I should take a break. Here's the important thing though: I can't take a break from writing. The words and characters won't stop forming in my head so, in the end, whether I get published or not, if my work is requested or not, it's part of who I am. Keep calm? I have to write to do that. I have a tendency to obsess and need immediate results. This is not a good combo in the writing world. Fortunately, I have a strong support system that is used to me, ignores my defeatest texts, tells me to take a breath and doesn't mock me, too much, when I send a follow up text about an hour later that reads:
Disregard last text. Just got a request. Still bring pop, please.
Actually, I got three requests from the "Pitch Party" and I am thrilled and excited and feel like I'm starting at the bottom of the roller coaster, again. However, I think it was a good little learning curve for me because it reinforced what I've already said: you have to write for you. It's where your best writing comes from. You have to be willing to listen and accept feedback and critiques AND rejection. If you decide to pursue the path to being published, you have to be willing to move forward, fight for it, get your writing out there and understand that it is a subjective business. It's like anything in life, I suppose, you have to really want it and the harder it is to get, the more you'll appreciate it when the good moments come.
Journey of a writer part 3 of 3
That call? The one that makes you feel like you haven't been wasting your time and fooling yourself? It came in an email first, for me anyway. In the email, Carly said she really liked The Princess and the Please and thought it had great commercial potential. She asked what I wanted in an agent and could she phone me? Um, YES! So she did.
You think it went like this: once we went through edits and revisions, Carly sends off the manuscript, editors and publishers loved it, and Carly phones to tell me I have to decide which book deal I want to take. That's a lovely ending. But it's not the one that happened.
We did go through revisions and Carly did send it out to editors and publishers. They did not love it as we did. They did not offer any such deal but they did offer us best wishes. While this was happening and I was at home wondering, every single day, if today would be the day, I began writing more and more. I sent some of that writing to my agent who responded with feedback. Still, I waited. I wrote. Waited, wrote, waited, wrote.
What's the worst thing that can happen? This book isn't going to work so you and your agent get the next project ready to go and try again, right? Maybe. In a lot of cases, I'm sure it does. For me, I got another email asking about a good time to phone. I thought (hoped, prayed, and wished) that it would be to talk about my contemporary romance novel that I had sent her a couple of months prior. It wasn't.
For me, this part of the story ended like this: Carly phoned to say that while I was professional to work with and had done nothing wrong, Princess wasn't getting picked up and she wasn't in love with any of the writing I had sent her in the mean time. She felt that she was no longer the best agent to represent me and this would be the end of our journey together.
Questions and thoughts that jump around like mini madmen in your mind:
"It's me, isn't it?", "Will I ever get another agent?", "Is this a sign?", "Did I make this happen?", "Do I actually have talent or was this a fluke?" All of those questions, and more, looped through my brain and still do. Really though, it's just a matter of it no longer being the best fit. No hard feelings, unpleasant words, or mixed messages. I suppose it could have gone down differently but in the end, it's the most civilized "break-up" I've ever had and we didn't even have to give each other back our stuff. She didn't unfriend me on Goodreads or block me on Twitter. In fact, she said she'd give me some advice on the last thing I sent her and if I had questions, I knew she was always around on Twitter.
Was it easy? No. Was I sad? Yes. Can I do anything about it? Yes and No. I can't make her take me back but we parted ways gracefully so I can only hope that it means new things will come. I've spoken of the writing community many times in the past year and once again, they are this amazing group of people that don't hate you if you succeed and don't pretend not to know you if you don't. I emailed Tanya, spoke to Carolyn (storytime), and reached out to new friends made on Twitter. They offered regret on my behalf, words of wisdom, and positive encouragement. How much more can you ask for than that?
It's not the ending I wanted or any author wants. I doubt it's the phone call or ending Carly wanted either. So what now? Well, I still have the Children's Festival next week, which I thought I should cancel because I was feeling like a 'fraud'. Then I decided no, I still have things to offer, things that made Carly notice my work in the first place. I'll do that. I'll keep getting to know the writing community. I'll keep writing and reading. I'll keep hoping it wasn't a fluke.
Five things that wouldn't have happened if I had not gone to the writer's conference that weekend: