Tag Archives: Writing

Home From Conference

My excuse for not getting on top of posting anything on Monday is a general case of zombie-itis. That is, I met and chatted with so many wonderful people at RWA National Conference, that I practically feel like I’ve used up all my words. Trust me, about now, stringing a sentence together is HARD!

But, enough with complaining, because I LOVE conference (note the extra use of caps.) 😉 I got to some pretty great workshops, learned new things, and hope I can share some of what I learned by next week, when hopefully I’ll be a tiny bit more recovered.

More importantly, I met lots of terrific writers, experienced all sorts of new things, and made some new friends. I wanted to push myself this time to go out there and meet people, which even meant that I went to parties (I was out past 9pm, a big shocker for me these days!) 😉

And as I get home – perhaps you likewise have just returned from a conference or will be soon, here are a few things I like to keep in mind:

1) If you’ve collected business cards during the event, consider at the time jotting down a bit about the conversation and meeting at the time (especially if you’re notorious at forgetting names like I am.) Then, when you get home, drop that person a quick note, asking how their conference went, expressing your pleasure at meeting them, etc. You never know what kind of relationships you might build this way, and it’s worth a try.

2) If you’ve been lucky enough to meet with industry professionals who want to see your work, get it to them as soon as you can! (I’m aiming for the end of this week, since it’s conference season and summer, so their in-boxes will be full.) It’s also startling how few people actually send in the requested material – don’t be one of them!

3) Take a bit of time to absorb and breathe after all those workshops and experience, but make sure you look back at your notes and try to apply them, especially anything that really resonated with you.

4) Set some new goals, using next year’s conference (particularly if this is an annual event), or even the end of the year to keep yourself on track. Where are you now? Where do you want to be? How are you going to get there?

5) Give others who attended the conference a tiny bit of a break if they don’t respond super quick, or get their blog posts up. They’re probably just as tired as you. 😉

Any tips you’d like to share? And next week, a new post, new knowledge (when my brain starts working again.)

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

Lighting the Fire: On Realizing Yourself and Your Potential

I like to use the tagline “True Love, Know Thyself” because I believe that true knowledge of self – and understanding of self – is necessary before we can ever hope to really join ourselves to another in love. Sure, this knowledge continues to evolve – as we do – but how can we claim to know anything if we don’t even know what lies in our own hearts first?

It’s autumn, and I’m nearing the end of a terribly plotted WIP that will probably need a lot of time to be untangled in further drafts, which means I’ve also been a bit down – on the world, myself, you name it. And in a round-about way, this is what led me to this article at the Huffington Post:

“HuffJammach: Becoming Who We Already Are” by Omid Safi

Please, go read the post yourself, but it kind of got me thinking how this could be applied to writing and the journey towards becoming the best writer we can be – truly realizing our potential.

Now, I think it’s easy for us to start to wonder: do we have what it takes? Am I a writer? Am I any good? Which almost inevitably leads down the trail to: “My writing isn’t any good.” (Or at least, that’s how it is for me – if this doesn’t happen to you – please share how!).

Anyway, I think that our writing – just like any lousy first draft – is always in a phase. And if we really, truly want to be successful and for our books to be the best that they can be, we have to reach deep to find our real potential, to find and hone the ability, not settling for “good enough” or “it’s the best I can do” when that isn’t true. We all have the potential for greatness within us: that’s not a gift doled out only to the precious few. BUT, I think that only a few of us actually get to the point where we reach – and potentially exceed – our potential.

I’ll return to the first draft kind of example, but let’s try the example of a child first. When you first hold your child in your arms, that tiny baby that the world has not yet imprinted with anything, really – no negativity, perhaps not even a name – that child could do, become, achieve anything, absolutely anything. As they start to really interact with the world, it will become obvious that there are strengths and weaknesses – we all have those – but still so much potential, and they could overcome those weaknesses, certainly – they’re still young. Then they hit their teenage years, maybe they mess up, maybe those strengths and weaknesses are more engrained, more obvious. Sure, they can still overcome – they still have fantastic potential, but it won’t be as easy to make those changes now, maybe the window of potential is starting to narrow. By the twenties or thirties, “decisions” about life seem to be expected, and they should be well on their way to achieving what potential is still left to them – after all, some doors are closed, right? They had better be achieving that potential by their forties and fifties. And by the time you reach sixties and above, well really, what time do you have left? Potential was either reached, enjoyed, or never will be. What massive potential there was at the beginning is either miniscule, or perhaps “used up” entirely, like a box of tissues.

Why? And why do we seem to view our writing the same way?

When we first start out, it could be anything, it could be the best book we ever write, it could be the start of so many wonderful things! And then you hit the second draft, and you can still fix the problems – it will still be fantastic! Third draft, well, this is it, get it cleaned up, some problems may be there to stay, but it doesn’t ruin it, does it? The next book will be even better! Fourth draft, well, time to send it out into the world; it’s good enough. Not perfect, not the best book ever, but good. Then it keeps getting rejected, and soon every time you look at the thing, the writing is insipid, horrible – why did you ever imagine you could get anywhere with this?

Whether a late draft or an old man, why is there any less potential? Why is it somehow “used up”? It hasn’t gone anywhere, because all that potential always lies within us. It doesn’t go away. It never vanishes – just our ability to see it, to want to access it. Whether we’re 8 or 88, we always have potential – and so does our writing.

All we have to do is keep fighting for it, and always, ALWAYS, keep believing in it.

Thanks for reading. Have a great week!

Beware the Bad Habits: Or, How Do You Hold Yourself Back?

I think we all have bad habits; part of the human condition and all that. For writing, I think we have a whole separate set of bad habits. Some of the ones that drive me bananas usually have to do with using the muse as scapegoat, and giving into writers’ block, or crumbling beneath fear. I think (hope) I’m pretty good at avoiding the first two (I control my muse, not the other way around … and I generally try to take care of him, and I’m not a huge believer in complete writers’ block but do believe in fatigue).

Which leaves fear … that stinky little guy who sneaks up on you and leaves you quivering and terrified, convinced that everything you do is terrible, that only rejections await in the mailbox, that nothing good will ever happen to you.

And indeed, we can look at statements like those above and think, “yeah, right, that’s not me, I’d never believe nonsense like that” … except when we’re locked into that cycle and trap of fear and we think exactly ridiculous things like that.  This becomes a bad habit if first, you give in to it rather than just recognizing it for what it is and moving on, and second, if you try to ignore it until it sneaks up and gets you anyway.

The  latter is my bad habit. I try to ignore the fact that sending out countless queries, etc and getting back plenty of rejections (along with the actually-worse non-responses) isn’t a big deal. That it doesn’t eat at me a little every time, making me wonder is it me? Is it the work? What am I doing wrong? Instead of sometimes looking at the fact that usually the answer is a bit more complicated than personal failing (it’s the “usually” that gets me).

Anyway, this kind of fear response can end up holding you back, not writing, and altogether, becoming completely useless, since it could lead to a bout of depression and feeling down on yourself all around. I know better, and yet I seem to come back to this cycle again and again anyway. It’s predictable that at first, I’ll love my story. When it’s finally ready to send out (and after coming to hate it through revision), I simultaneously start submitting that story and writing a new one. The next step is that I love the new story … and feel that it’s so much better than the one that’s being submitted, clearly this is why I get poor response.

So that’s my bad habit, what’s yours? Can you recognize it? And better yet, can you prevent it?

Thanks for reading – have a great week!

Mountain Climbing in a Fog: How Do We Measure Progress?

We all have end goals, some small, some, well,  mountainous. Some goals – and their attainment – is easy to measure and see. Others less so, especially if success is something measured in our heads. That makes some of these goals like mountain-climbing in the fog: we have no way of knowing where we are on our journey, if we’re at the foot of the mountain or inches from the top. But we just have to have faith and keep climbing anyway.

Mountain from BC holiday, Aug 2010
Mountain from BC holiday, Aug 2010; photo taken by me.

Sounds “easy,” huh? 😉

My husband has a new position in the company he works for which is relatively new, and which some days, he feels wholly unequal to. He knows where he wants to go, what he wants to achieve, and while I’m certain he has made progress towards those goals, he isn’t so sure. For him, I’ve found that sometimes he questions his own abilities and qualifications, often under-estimating them. And really, I think this is something a lot of us do, no matter what field we work in. When something really matters, we want to put our very best into it – whether that’s our writing, our office jobs, our relationships, whatever. Sometimes it feels we’re not equal to the task – especially when you hit tough terrain on that mountain. All we can continue to do is value and yet continue to improve our skills, abilities, and selves – perhaps sometimes just our confidence – to make ourselves capable and earn success.

The thing with amorphous goals is that it’s very difficult to see the signposts on the journey upwards. At least, not on the way up. Maybe we’ve drawn a map, and we know we’re fulfilling each point – like publishing, with querying, agents, more manuscripts complete, etc.  Equally frustrating is the old adage that no one’s journey is the same: a maddening adage because it’s so true. We have to set our sights on a mountaintop we more imagine than see; perhaps we don’t even know how tall the mountain – or how long the journey – will be. It’s probably better we don’t. Then we pack up everything we’ll need to get there: every skill and wit we possess; faith that the goal is attainable; friends and loved ones to help us on the way; education material to keep improving the materials we’re working with; and a touch of sheer orneriness to keep us going even when many others would have given up.

Then onward we head, up our mountain, towards our goals, towards our dreams and the promises we make to ourselves.

Sometimes the journey will be shorter than we expected; maybe we picked a short mountain, or maybe we started half-way up. Other times, things will get hard; the top wouldn’t be so special if they weren’t. But we’ll promise ourselves to keep on climbing, keep on reaching, no matter what. And hopefully, when we reach the top, the fog will clear if only for an instant so we can look back at the path we’ve come from and at the vista of our success … or maybe we’ll realize we’ve only reached a partial summit of a bigger mountain, a bigger journey, that we’ve only just begun.

Cheers to all the “mountain climbers” out there – may you keep on climbing, and may you enjoy the view when you get to the top.

Next week, I’ll look at how we can establish particular “markers” to measure (or guess) how far we’ve come.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

Keeping a Hook in the Water: How the Querying Process is Like Fishing

I spent a lot of time as a kid out fishing with my dad. I learned to cast my line and reel it back in (usually with a weed). Sometimes we trawled along slowly (definitely an effective way to catch weeds). I haven’t gone fishing in years since, but as I’ve been sending out my monthly quota of queries, I’ve been thinking about how the querying process is like fishing.

First, you start with the hook – no secret there, since we even call it a hook. This is the short encapsulation of the novel or project you’re querying about. But, I think other than the hook, we also need to remember that the rest of the query is itself a hook, and should be the right color and type to fit the fish (ie: tailored to the agent / publisher we’re querying). Usually they’re more than happy to help you with this, and you can figure it out by checking out their page, blogs, tweets, other postings – some often very specific about what they want in their query. After all, they’re going to be happier if the “hook” is right for them.

Then, you have to have the bait. To me, I feel that instead of a slimy worm, we tend to include a synopsis and sample chapters. Just as the tailored hook is important, the right bait is necessary to catch what you’re after: some want only the query, some want five pages, others five chapters, etc. Some don’t want romance, or sci fi, or fantasy, or whatever.  Use the submissions guidelines to help ensure that your “bait” is exactly what they’re hungry for.

Now, you cast that baited hook out into the waves and tidewaters of the postal service, or more commonly now, the internet.

And then you have the part of fishing (and querying) that I’ve always found the hardest: the waiting. Your little query bobs along out there with the thousands of others. Sometimes it will get caught on the boat (like when it gets trapped in a spam filter or the post office loses it). Sometimes you’ll catch weeds or the wrong kind of fish (rejections of course, along with agents and publishers who may not have the best intentions).

If you’re like me, you’ll get impatient, you’ll want to reel it in faster, but here’s where the fishing analogy doesn’t quite carry through: we have no control over when or if we’ll receive a reply. All we can hope for is to land that perfect, prize-winning fish: the agent or publisher that fits us the best, and we them.

Because of course, agents and publishers aren’t really fish (and I hope you didn’t expect me to carry through with the catching and eating of said fish.) What we’re really hoping to find –  particularly when searching for an agent – is a business partner. It’s just that in this industry, it doesn’t quite work the same as others.

And if you get down, because your hooks all come up empty and no one is biting or too many weeds, maybe you can comfort yourself with the idea that there’s some big fish lurking down there who really wants your hook and bait – you just have to cast it a bit closer. Remember too, that as my dad always reminded me when I started to whine and get bored, that you can’t catch any fish with your hook out of the water. So, keep sending out those queries, keep baiting your hook perfectly, and when you catch weeds or rejections, clean the hook off, re-bait it, and cast it out again. Who knows what – or who – is waiting out there for you.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

Perseverance or Tenacity: Keep on Pushing

This morning I read a blog post that I wanted to share because I think it’s something we all need to consider, especially if trying to succeed in an industry like publishing, or the arts, or … well really, if you want to succeed at anything, accomplish a particular dream, I don’t suppose it matters what industry you’re in.

Anyway, the blog post is: Taking Perseverance to a Whole New Level by Lara Schiffbauer

For me, it arrived at a fortunate time since it’s the end of the month, and in my accidental-wasn’t-planning-to-make-them goals for 2012, I’m trying to stick to sending out at least 3 queries a month, which usually means it falls on the last Monday or Wednesday of the month. Anyway, sending out things like queries can seem a very daunting task, since it always seems to take far more time than you anticipate, and there is that fear that it won’t get the result you desire anyway.

So, onto the blog post by Lara Shiffbauer. Go read her post first, then come back … okay, did you read it? Did you come back?

Anyway, she talks about the big-brother to perseverance, or at the very least, another close relative: tenacity. This being that you stick to what you’re doing without doubting the principle / reasons why you’re sticking with it. It means you can’t second-guess the quality of your work, the potential for failure (or success), all the insidious kinds of “what-ifs” that can assail us. And as I mentioned before, while “what if” can be a terrific friend when we’re working on a piece of fiction, it’s a dark and wily foe if you bring it into real life (you know, the same kind of thing that makes you wonder the horrible reasons your spouse is late, when really, they’re just picking up milk? Yep, that’s Mr. Not-so-nice What-if.)

Really, if you consider it, the questioning of our style of writing, the quality, the marketability, our potential for success, etc, etc, etc, while we do need to assess this at least a little I think, too much assessment (that becomes obsession or brooding), will quickly become the enemy of perseverance. Afterall, what’s the point continuing to fight onward if you’re just going to fail anyway?

Because you can’t succeed if you give up.

When I gloomily suggest all queries will result in rejections (uhoh – getting into superlative and unhelpful description  like “always” and “never” isn’t good), he’s quick to point out that they certainly can’t say yes if they didn’t get a query.

So, how do you need to keep on pushing? How could blind tenacity help you where perseverance might fail? What kind of queries or cold-calls do you have to make to make sure someone on the other end can say yes?

Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

Staying Positive and Persevering: Goal-setting for a New Year (Part 2)

Last week we looked over last year’s goals, and there was plenty of rehashing the past and reflection. Hopefully, you remembered to stay positive and focus on what you HAVE achieved rather than what might still need a bit more time or effort. But, enough of all that. It’s a new year, a blank slate, and today, we’re setting new writing career goals which you WILL achieve.

So, goal setting for the new year. Yes, some of those unaccomplished goals may still be fresh in your mind, and if they’re still important enough to you, then they belong on this new list. But, let’s consider them a bit more closely. Say something like “get published this year.” That’s a big goal, especially dependent on where you are in your career (have you completed a manuscript? Do you have an agent? Have you been querying? Etc).  For something like “getting published” there are also factors you can’t control (trends, the subjectivity of the publishing world, the economy or cutting back in new books and authors, etc). So, break the large goal down into smaller chunks you CAN control. I love sub-lists, so perhaps have something like:

Goal #1: Finally get published this year.

A)  Send out 3 new queries to potential agents a month this year.

a.   Research and continue to update a list of at least 25 agents so new submissions can continue to go out with each rejection.

B)  Research potential publishers and editors.

C)  Send out at least 4 queries or pitches to publishing houses which best suit my manuscript.

D) Attend at least one conference and pitch my writing to agents and editors.

E)   ….

Get the idea? That means next year, even if you can’t check off the big goal “get published” you might be able to check off lots of what you’ve done which has brought you closer to what you want to achieve. Putting items on the list which are relatively easy to achieve isn’t cheating: they are necessary steps. But, they’re often what you do but don’t consider “worthy” enough to write down or list. Why not? They’ll help you achieve larger goals, plus it will make you feel better when looking back next year and remind you of what you have done. Think small, break things down into steps or stages, manageable chunks. The above fictional goal setting is relatively random, but could you use and customize it for your needs? This method of goal setting not only provides you with more easily achievable mini-goals to check off as accomplishments later, but it’s also a kind of plan which can lead you towards accomplishing the bigger goals. How do you complete a manuscript? One word at a time. Remember, a 100K manuscript is 100 days of 100 words, shorter still if you demand higher word counts per day.

Next, consider what you were able to do in the year previous, and don’t be afraid to push yourself. Last year did you have a daily word count you had to achieve? What about upping it by 1000 words or whatever seems reasonable to you? How many manuscripts did you complete? Could you complete at least one more in the same time period? How do you measure productivity or achievements? How can this kind of measurement be incorporated into your goal-setting? You might not be able to control the economy, an editor having a bad day the day your query comes across their desk, whatever: but you can control what and how much you’re writing, and how much and how you’re trying to get your work out into the marketplace. Even better, now you not only have goals, but the smaller goals necessary to achieve the bigger one also give you the start of a plan of action: you’re on your way to success.

Finally, after you’ve reflected on last year’s goals and set some new ones, there’s just one step left: start off the year with a positive attitude. Keep in mind what you have accomplished, how far you’ve come, how you’ve changed and what new adventures and opportunities await in the new year. Sure, there are things you didn’t achieve, but it’s a new year, a clean slate, and this year will be THE year. This year will be YOUR year.

Okay, so to make this all the easier for you, I’ve broken things down into three easy-to-remember steps.

Step 1 – Reflect what you accomplished the past year. What did you achieve? What can you be proud of? For the things you haven’t achieved quite yet, are these goals still important to you? Have you taken positive steps towards achieving larger goals? (See the earlier blog post for further detail).

Step 2 – Set goals for the new year. Be specific with your goals, and break large goals down into achievable elements you can control.

Step 3 – Leave last year behind, good or bad, since it’s done with now. This is a new year, a new start, which could be completely different. Start the new year off with a positive, hopeful attitude and the thirst for success. You’ll find it.

Was this helpful to you? I wish you all the best in the new year – and achieving success with your goals. Please, share how this helped, how you set goals, or even your goals themselves below in the comments section. Happy 2011!

Should You Follow or Try to Set the Trend?: Following a trend in writing

Zombies are supposed to be an up-and-coming trend. Add dinosaurs to the mix (as my husband assures me would be a fantastic idea) and you have two of my most despised entities together.

At writers’ conferences, in related news articles, the publishing industry, like other industries, is always trying to keep up with and predict the next trend in the hopes of making the most money by having the product consumers want when it’s hot. Writers, likewise wanting in on the deal, sometimes pay a great deal of attention to talk of trends, sometimes jumping on board with whatever they believe best suits the trend. Think of the craze for magical-related books following the start of the Harry Potter phenomenon, or the current popularity of paranormals, especially when they involve vampires.

So, should you chase the trend too? Is that where success awaits?

In a discussion with one of my favorite authors, Kelley Armstrong, her suggestion was: how could you? Say you identify the trend now. It may be a year before you’ve completed the book. Then it’s at least another year before you sell the book, possibly two depending on publishing schedules before it would ever show up on store shelves. Is the same trend still hot? Or has something new taken over?

The very idea of trends hints at their impermanence. Just because bellbottoms were hot in the seventies doesn’t mean everyone’s still wearing them now.

The other question is: why did you choose to chase the trend? Was it because you thought you too could cash in on the popularity of, say, rockstar ghosts? If so, your chances have just become that much slimmer. What do you know about rockstar ghosts? Are they truly a passion, or do you just want to make a quick buck? Don’t forget the importance of readers, who can usually tell the difference between a well-written, passionate book and one shoved out for money and little more. Potentially you could cheapen your entire writer brand as a trend-chaser rather than a serious, passionate writer.

The example I always think about is when I heard about the zombies showing up as “hot trendsetters” even in romance. Way too many loose or rotting body parts, I figure, even if the trend isn’t that the hero or heroine actually be zombies (I think they’re supposed to be zombie hunters or victims trying to survive or something – otherwise, sex scenes are definitely a no-go!). As I said up front, I despise zombies: zombie movies, zombie plotlines, whatever. They’re really not my thing. So even if someone approached me with a fantastic sure-sell zombie romance, should I write it? Probably not. Because that’s not where my passion lies, it’s not the story I want to tell, nor therefore could best tell. If I was writing it only for the money, it’s not really my story, but just a bunch of empty dollar-signs, isn’t it?

Of course, this is not to say never write with or for trends. What if what you write – inspired by a current trend or not – is somehow suddenly trendy? That’s not a bad thing- that may be the universe cosmically turning in your favor (or we’ll say as such, and you can feel better, okay?). If one of the trends inspires something in you, if a story comes to you and happens to be trendy or in danger of becoming trendy, so long as you write it as your story, with passion and dedication, and the desire to make it the best YOUR story you can, write away! Your honest appreciation for the topic, or unique edge, or whatever it is that makes you a unique and quality writer will be evident to editors and perhaps more importantly readers, and the topic – trendy or not – becomes a secondary factor.

Bottom line: write what you love, what you’re passionate about. If it happens to be trendy right now, or maybe you were inspired by the trend, fine; what’s relevant is only that you’re truly passionate about it, that you’re telling YOUR story(s) whatever that may be.

Disagree with me? Should I be writing about those zombies now? Have you successfully chased a trend? Please, comment below.