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.
All the things all at once
There are so many things happening around me right now that are out of my control that it feels impossible to sit still and encapsulate how I feel about that fact. Twitter and Facebook have been abuzz with #yesallwomen and I want to weigh in but I'm not sure how to summarize all of my feelings so I basically just read the hashtags all week. Because yes, I think, all women, but I also think, all people. We all have a fundamental stake in being good people. To others and to ourselves. Every day, we should be the kind of person we would want our kids to be proud of, be the kind of person we want them to be. And if you don't have kids, then be the kind of person you'd want to be friends with. The kind of person that you would count on. One of my favourite quotes (ever) is "The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday." We get a blank slate every day to right wrongs, make better choices, be better people. Women and men. Kids and Adults. All of us.
Something else weighing heavy in my mind is the politics surrounding teaching right now. It's horrible. It's horrible to watch and horrible to be part of. When you become a teacher, you want to work with kids. You want to make someone's life, day, next ten minutes just a little better. You want to see them succeed, get over the hurdles, and achieve their potential. There are a lot of deterrents in that path. There are crowded classrooms, higher needs, budget cuts, and mountains of curriculum. That's not what bugs me though. And no, it's not the wage either. What bothers me is the overall shift I'm seeing that makes me think that people are devaluing teachers. Not all, maybe not even most, but some. Margaret Mead says “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." I love this quote and find it quite true. The flip side of it though is that a small group of people committed to making you see the negative can actually create change too. When I was growing up, I loved a lot of my teachers. There is an undeniable bond, for most people, between themselves and a least one teacher in their memory. While we were on strike today, we talked about who that one teacher for us was. For some it was their home economics teacher. Others, it was their Language Arts teacher. For me, it was my high school drama teacher. Whoever it was, it is very likely that you had a teacher touch your life in a positive way. Teachers shape us, spend time with us, watch us grow, notice when we surpass our own expectations, applaud us, push us back up when we fall. When I was little, we studied community helpers: police officers, firemen, doctors, and teachers. They were people you could trust. People that wanted to impact someone else's life in a positive way. We still matter because your kids will always matter. They are the next generation that will make choices based on the core values that we instill in them, together.
The last thing that is on my mind is the Book Expo of America. I'm an odd person in that I am intensely jealous of all the wonderful people that I "know" who are there now, walking the aisles with Rainbow Rowell, Neil Patrick Harris, Jeff Kinney, and so many more. I wish I were there. But then I think, what would I do if I were there? Most likely, I would freak a little at the thought of talking to these people. I'd be ultra nervous and quite certain that every wrong word ever invented would come out of my mouth at exactly the wrong time. I would laugh too loud and babble incessantly. Someone who was brave enough to say that yes, they were actually with me, would smile politely and yank on my sweater sleeve, trying to save the poor person I'm talking to. This is why my interaction is better online. The delete button doesn't work in real life. Which brings us full circle-- #yesallwomen, #yesallpeople because the delete button is not an option and we don't know what word or gesture, attitude or comment will impact the person around us, or how. We all matter. It's important that we not only remember that, but teach it to the next generation-- to your children, your friend's child. Manners still matter, thoughtfulness isn't out of date, thinking before you speak never goes out of style. And you really don't understand someone until you've walked in their shoes. So instead, walk beside them, without judgement, and just do your best to keep moving forward.
Sorry if this was just straight up rambling, but I did warn you in the title that it was #allthethings
Know your limit. Write within it.
It's possible that last summer I may have had a little problem...an addiction of sorts...to all things contest and query related. In fact, there may even have been an element of longing to get noticed or validated. In addition to this, I was also suffering with need-to-write-every-single-second-so-that-I-don't-lose-my-chance syndrome. I believe I caught this from Twitter, where you can find writers galore, contests galore, and constant updates on which writer raked in the good news of the day. Like a good game of poker, it's exciting to be sitting at the table, trying your hand, and seeing if you can stay in the game. It's exhilarating when someone "calls" (or favorites your tweet). There's strategy and technique in crafting the perfect query letter, ensuring that your submission is strong. There's luck in finding the right match for yourself. But there's also the necessity of knowing when to fold. When to back down and realize that the stakes might be 'too rich' for you. It might even be necessary to walk away from the table. Until you're sure you can handle being there. Until you understand that it's not a high stakes, winner takes all game. And until you understand that you, may lose a lot of hands before you finally win.
When you start querying, entering contests, and "showing your cards", you learn what you're made of as a writer (and a person). It is not easy to go from the rush of someone wanting your work to the edge of your seat waiting for them to read it to the hard landing of rejection. It may build character but it also leaves a mark. It is incredibly hard to make yourself understand that they are rejecting your work, not you. Because of course, our work feels like part of us. If you can't face the reality that not everyone is going to love your work, that not everyone is going to want it, or you, even if you thought they might, then maybe you're not ready. Or at least, that is what I learned. I wasn't prepared for the slide down. The attention is wonderful and validating, but the time in between scoops out your self-esteem. And it becomes a cycle. If you let it. If you're writing to prove something or because you think you have to, then you're writing for the wrong reason and it won't be authentic. You have to write because you can't not write. Because it's part of you. If you feel this way, then you'll know, or come to know, that sitting out a round, standing on the edges for a bit, doesn't pull you out of the game. It just lets you breathe.
I sat out the last twitter contest and I thought I would be sorry but I'm not. I like the conclusion that I've come to in the last several months: if I slow down it will not make me disappear. If I don't get an agent, it will not make me stop. But if I had entered the contest, when I finally feel like, okay, I can just breathe and write at the same time, I would have thrown myself back into the cycle. And right now, it's not where I want to be. The point is, you have to know what your limits are, what you can handle, and what you can give. This leads me to my second decision.
I've decided not to participate in the A-Z challenge, which I think looks incredibly cool. Writing a different blog every day for 26 days is a fantastic way to be motivated, be part of something special, and be creative. And I signed up. I even chose a theme (a good one) and organized my drafts file to get myself ready. But then I asked myself, "why"? I have been welcomed into a small community of gracious, funny, and talented writers. I have a support system and a couple of critique partners that I respect. So was I pushing myself because I wanted to just play one more hand or because I felt that this hand would be a building block for the rest of the game. Right now, my building blocks include co-authoring a romantic suspense novel, waiting on agent responses to another romantic suspense novel, being a critique partner, and writing things that I enjoy. I'm putting less pressure on myself to do it all. It all sounds great...but this is how you burn out. It becomes overwhelming and emotionally exhausting if you push yourself past your limit or worse, if you don't recognize you have a limit.
Sitting out and opting out are hard choices as a writer. You feel like, even though everything is moving slower than you ever would have thought humanly possible, there's so much happening around you, without you. And it can become nerve wracking. A friend of mine said this week, "Unless you have an editor breathing down your neck, write for fun or what's the point?" I don't have to spread myself thin trying to be a part of every challenge and every contest. But last summer, I had myself convinced that I did. That if I didn't play every hand, that I'd lose for sure. Really, the only thing I was losing was sleep. And maybe some sanity but that may or may not be tied to writing.
In the last year, my writing has become infinitely stronger. But so have I. By taking away the urgency, I've side-stepped the pressure that I was putting on myself. I've stopped telling myself I have to enter everything I can (though I highly recommend many of the fantastic contests and pitching events you can find on twitter). Instead, I'm telling myself to make what I do write, what I do query, the best it can be. In the process of slowing down, finding balance, and gaining some insight, I may even have become slightly less annoying to those who have to put up with me when I get a little too caught up. One of my favorite quotes is below. That's what I'll aim for. As a person and as a writer.
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.
Making words matter
Writing has always been something that has come easily to me. I whip off genuine, personalized report cards in a day. I can write a blog post in under ten minutes. I wrote my first novel (without edits) in four weeks. When the story is there for me, it's not difficult to get it down on paper. That's not bragging-- it's just the way I've always written. Having said that, in the past, my writing has always been for me so it hasn't mattered that there were glitches in the plot or character inconsistencies. Now that I'm actively trying to make my stories stand out above others, to make my writing catch the eye of an agent, what was once good has to be spectacular. Good is not good enough and speed doesn't count for anything.
It's difficult to separate yourself from your writing long enough to see the faults and weaknesses. I'm okay with having them and I'm okay with fixing them but the thing that is hard for me is narrowing in on where they are. This is why it's so important to utilize the feedback that anyone, particularly anyone in the writing/publishing/editing/agenting industry, has to offer. The people that I have "met" in the last year through social media and because of putting myself out there as a writer, have been incredibly supportive and kind and positive. I feel as close to some of them as I do to some of the friends that live down the road from me. I believe you can establish strong bonds and friendships via social media and email. It's new age pen pals. The difference, however, is the personal element is removed so they can, perhaps, offer that extra bit of hard criticism you need. Why? Because even though they like all your statuses on Facebook and retweet your tweets, even though you chat more frequently with them than others who live a few minutes away, they haven't seen you cry when you get a rejection letter or laugh like an idiot when you get amazing feedback. They know you but they don't KNOW you. This can be a very good thing for a writer as it allows them to be a stronger critic. There's an element of detachment that comes with online friendship that can only be changed by actually physically meeting. And I hope that one day I get to meet some of the amazing people that have befriended me. In fact, I already have met some of them and it's a pretty awesome feeling when they're just as cool as you thought they'd be. However, until I meet the others, I can let that buffer level of detachment work in my favor. They can be just a little harsher than my best friend who has to put up with me being moody when she tells me what I know is the truth. If they don't want to deal with my irritation over pointing out something that needs fixing, they can move away from the computer. Trust me, my best friend can't. I will show up at her house cause I'm fifty shades of needy and clingy like that.
So the point is, I'm going to spend some time really letting the feedback wash over me, knowing that these people who are offering me pointers and suggestions, for some reason, want me to succeed. I've said it before but it bears repeating: writers are the most supportive, encouraging group of competitors you could align yourself with. I guess it's because there can never be too many books. Or maybe it's because the same story can be told a million different and compelling ways. Whatever the reason, the writer's I've met want every bit as badly as I do to succeed. But they fall over themselves with praise, feedback, encouragement, and their valuable time to make sure I'm right there with them.
For the next little bit, I will be drawing on them to help me make my work the strongest it can be. I will also be checking out as many articles, blogs, posts,and websites as I can. Here's what I'm starting with this week:
Any good sites you'd recommend for character development or building conflict? Share.
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.
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.