The Writing Process...tag; I'm it.
Thanks Jamie Rae for tagging me in the Writing Process Blog Tour.
Jamie is one of those cool people who does a little bit of everything and does all of it well. She's a great writer and her book, Call Sign, Karma will be released in 2015. I am lucky enough to call her my critique partner and friend. She's got incredible insight into what makes a story work, which is why her writing is so strong. You can find Jamie on
Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and also the following websites:
Jamie Rae Writes
Okay. Onto my own process...if you can call it that.
1. What are you working on?
Currently, I am outlining another novel connected to Angel's Lake, Minnesota, the fictional town I created for Forever Christmas, A Not so Lonely Christmas, and Falling for Home. Also, I just finished developmental edits on a medical romance titled, Dangerous Love, that I co-authored. Soon I'll be working on the next round of edits for that. It comes out in March 2015.
2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?
Hmm. I think my work is a combination of styles. It's not just romance, it's not just happily ever after-- it's a look at how hard it is sometimes to get to happily ever after and how, when you get there, it's not always what you envisioned, but somehow it's exactly what you want.
3. Why do I write what I write?
Because I'm addicted to happily ever after and "awww" moments. I re read all my favourite parts in books constantly. It's what I enjoy reading and it's what comes to mind when I start to write.
4. How does my individual writing process work?
The word process suggests something with organization. I'm not sure that I have an actual process. I read a lot. I get ideas. I then text the ideas to my BFF who tells me if the idea is ridiculous, overdone, has potential, or could go somewhere. I message with my friend and CP who is constantly supportive of everything, but also helpful and good at guiding me. Then I write. I write exceptionally fast when I have the ideas in my head. On average, it takes me a couple of months to write a book that I know where it's going. It's a bit longer if I'm struggling on the plot. I'm getting better at planning, though I do this more when I'm stuck on whether an idea actually has enough ability to grow into a novel. In writing, there's two labels: plotter and pantser. I am both. This reflects my personality as I find it hard to make decisions and am frequently on the fence about many things. When I'm writing, or awake, I have diet Pepsi close by. On average, during a writing session, I answer 3, 234 questions from my children who will suddenly need my attention when my computer is open. I always have Twitter and Facebook open, which is why I don't get more done. And I do most of my writing at the kitchen table. That's it. Not really a process, but that's how I roll.
Now...onto the others. First, I am tagging my co-author Kara Leigh Miller
Kara Leigh Miller is an author, an editor, and, to me, a great sounding board. I met her when she ran a contest through her website. The winner would co-author a book with her, a medical drama, and that book would be published by Anaiah Press, where she is a Managing Editor. Yes, I won. This is how I know, first hand, that she is a great writer, a patient co-author, and a very funny person. She's also a mentor in this years PitchWars! You can find Kara on Facebook, Twitter, and on her website. She has not yet succumbed to Pinterest but, eventually, she will fall prey to that as well. You can find out more about Kara's books on her website: Kick Start Your Heart Romance.
Up second is the lovely Joanne Macgregor.
Joanne is a both an adult and young adult author. I connected with her some time ago and found that she is so easy to talk to, so sweet, and charming, that it's impossible not to want to be friends with her. Recently, she's been promoting her psychological thriller, Dark Whispers. She has five young adult books out, including one titled: Harry on the Couch: A psychologist's reading of Harry Potter. You can find Joanne on Facebook, Twitter, and on her website.
For my third tag, a connection made through PitchWars, Jodie Andrefski
I chose to tag Jodie for several reasons (after I asked her, which probably seemed a little weird to her since I'd just "met" her): we have the same name (spelled differently), she loves dessert (that's my main food group), and she's a SPN fan (which I'm trying to not be too much of a scaredy cat to watch). The main reason, though, was because I'd connected with her through PitchWars and it reminded me how great the Twitter writing community is. She put up one of her #firstlines on Twitter and it was awesome. I commented and thus the mutual following began. Twitter is a great place to connect with others who share your interests, goals, and obsessions. Jodie is a Young Adult writer, as well as an intern at Entangled Publishing. You can find her on her website-- awesomely named 2000 Words, and on Twitter.
Some of the best books you'll read are not out yet, written by authors you don't yet know, but one day will. Now it's their turn. Thank you for participating ladies.
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.
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.
A writer's toolkit
When I was little I would get out some paper and a pen or pencil and call myself a writer. What more could anyone need if they wanted to write stories? When my daughters want to write, they ask if I can get off the laptop, if they can use the iPad, or go onto the desk top computer. Lots of times, I tell them that they have to use the old fashion method of paper and ink. I think there's power in this for them. As a writer, there is still something that moves me about writing the words that fumble around in my brain down on a piece of paper and reading over it, realizing that it's become something more than jumbled words. We can backspace and delete on our laptops but I believe pen to paper will always have value. That can be another post.
When I was in high school I got a very nice Smith Corona typewriter. When something really mattered, I'd type up a final draft on that. In University, I purchased my own computer and parted ways with my pen and paper unless necessary. As I've waded into the waters of "professional" writing (sharing with an agent, getting an agent, being on submission), I've come to realize that there are many more tools necessary for today's aspiring authors. It's more than just the medium we use to get our words down; much more.
In teaching (I teach elementary), we need to be very aware of (and hopefully utilizing) 'best practices'. This means that we are up to date on current research and information on how to facilitate student success. It is very similar in writing. It is not just paper, pen, a list of agencies to query, and some stamps anymore. What does today's writer need in their toolkit?
What else? What's important in your writing toolkit? What makes you stronger or more confident as a writer?
A different version of myself
It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.
Wading into the publishing world is much like getting into cold water. You move slowly, one step at a time, uncertain that you should continue. You take another step, willing to prove you can be courageous, but shaking a little inside.
I'm hoping, that by the time I am totally submerged, I will have acclimated to my surroundings. Since last November, when I signed with my agent, Carly Watters , I have read dozens upon dozens of articles, blogs, digests, tweets, and online posts. I have read about how the industry works, what expectations most authors have, what expecations agents and editors have, things that you are encouraged to do and things that are frowned upon by industry professionals. I have lapped up every article that offers advice and suggestions and tried to decide what fits me. My own agent has a very powerful blog that offers great tips and insights. Another trick I've learned is to follow people on Twitter, that the people I follow, follow.Do you follow that?
For instance, my agency, PS Literacy, follows Rachelle Gardner, another agent. So I often click on links to her blog and read that (http://www.rachellegardner.com). This week, I read a post that spoke to the very heart of what I've been struggling with for a little while (or maybe forever). She talked about self-promotion and the natural inclination, for most people, to dislike it. I am in this camp: I want to write, I want to share what I write, I believe in what I write, but when I draw attention to my own writing, I feel like I am an attention seeker. Then, I feel that if I'm going to draw people to my writing, I had better say something important or they will be wondering why I took their time.
What her blog pointed out, however, was that I am not promoting ME, but more, my writing. She said that if we look at self-promotion in a business-like way, we are not saying "Look at me! Look at me!", but instead, here is something powerful (she makes the comparison to a product you have to offer) that I want to share with you. By promoting your book, you are saying, I think sharing this with you will enhance your life.
This is truly valuable advice for a burgeoning writer, especially in the world of social media. Everything I have read advises authors to build platforms, to connect with would-be audiences. I believe it was this blog that also pointed out that even very famous authors don't sell books just by writing them. You have to promote what you do to draw people in. If you have created something worthwhile, you will keep them hooked. Even when they're hooked, however, you have to continue to promote.
Even though, in the end, it will be a children's book that I want to promote, it is still me that represents it. So, Gardner is correct in saying it's the product you're pushing, but who is behind it, also has an impact. Which is where my thoughts have been focused this week. In my classroom, and in my own home, I believe in the philosophy that 'character is defined by who you are when no one is watching'. But let's be honest, when no one is watching, I'm likely not the best version of myself. What I have to consider though, as I wade deeper into this world, is who will the audience see when they look at me?
I am very interested in writing different genres. Currently, my agent is submitting my children's book. That was written by the part of me that is silly, rhymes a lot, and loves a good fairytale. However, the Young Adult Fiction, that I'm editing and reworking, was written by my angst-ridden, inner fifteen year old. Then there's the commercial fiction/romance novel I am working on right now; it is being written by the adult me that has seen the sadder part of life and the strength that is revealed when people are pushed to their limits.
So who do I reveal? My husband certainly can't handle three of me, even if it's only public representations of me. I'm working to establish myself as a Children's Book Author first, so should I only tweet about things kid related? What if my lonely, inner-teen shows herself and posts something? Or if the adult version of me shows up and tweets or posts about romance and love and marriage. Of course, all of this is about my online presence. If there's ever a time where I have to promote my book (and, because essentially they're linked, myself) in person, there's no way to escape the different versions of me.
They all come out whenever they feel like it, often stepping over each other, and on each other, many times in a day. In addition to my mini princess, grumpy teen, and frazzled wife, I'm also harboring a nagger, a pleaser, a worrier, a goofball, and an uncoordinated, wanna-be graceful dreamer. So, when the day finally comes that I have to do something and share myself with the world, all of my 'me-s' are going to show up and I'm betting there's going to be a competition to take credit for the book I've written.
This is why I have already informed my best friend that she will accompany me to any such event, as she knows how to reign all those sides of me in and keep me focused on the one thing they all have in common: I am a writer and I want to share that with you.