Monday, May 31, 2010

Old School Rap and Marinated Steaks

I've been researching a publisher that I really like and one of their chief editor's, Lisa Mangum, gave some advice that stuck with me. She mentioned a quote she saw at Disneyland that is good for all of us fledgling writers to keep in mind:
"Don't worry. Don't hurry. Don't stop."
So, like an old-school rapper with a 50-pound boom box on his shoulder and a blinged out grill, let's...a-break-it-down...

Don't worry: Well, easier said than done, especially if you are neurotic like me. But, Lisa reminds us that for the foreseeable future, unlike our boom box-toting friend, reading isn't going out of style. She says, "There will always be a need for books, new writers, new ideas, new voices." Don't worry over your story, confident writing makes for better reading.

Don't hurry: Sometimes this is even harder than trying to stop worrying (in which I have a Ph.D. by the way). I remember finishing the last page of my first manuscript and sending out my query letters within 24 hours to various agents. Bad move. Stupid move. Dumber than installing a screen door on a submarine. The manuscript wasn't ready. The query FOR SURE wasn't ready. Our mission is to write good books- that takes time. Lots of it. Don't hurry your craft! Sometimes letting things marinate for a while produces better results. Just ask the delicious steak I had for dinner last night.

Don't stop: I'm a big fan of The Office. I love the main character Michael Scott because he is an absolute bumbling fool who sometimes, even if accidentally, gets things exactly right. When talking to Jim, a boy in love with Pam, a girl engaged to a loser, Michael gave him this advice: "Never, ever, ever give up." Point taken Mr. Scott. Deal with the rejection that is bound to come. Put on your extra coat of thick skin and don't stop.

So whether you are writing a book, making some kick-butt barbecue, or just trying to keep hip hop alive in the streets- Don't worry, don't hurry, don't stop. Good advice Ms. Mangum!

I recommend reading all of Lisa's advice for new writers at this website: http://jordanmccollum.com/2009/09/slush-pile-lisa-mangum-book-academy/
Her personal website can be found here: http://www.lisamangum.com/

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Proverbial Cheerios

I haven't been visiting my own blog lately. Avoiding it may be a better word. I've given myself a list of reasons why I don't have time to sit down and write an entry. It usually goes something like this:
- I'm too busy today
- I"m too tired tonight
- If I don't do laundry right now, I'll have to wear a swimming suit instead of underwear tomorrow
- My son has something stuck up his nose. I should probably take care of that...
And the list goes on and on.

All these excuses are valid enough. I am too busy. I am too tired. My son really does have something stuck in his nose. But none of these are what is keeping me away.
The real reason?
I haven’t had anything inspiring or helpful to say and it’s almost physically painful to see the date that I last posted get further and further away from today’s date.
A dry spell.
So, all you writers out there, help! What inspires you to write? How do you get your creative juices flowing? How do we un-stick our proverbial noses when they are full of proverbial cheerios? (By the way, real cheerios are what was stuck up my son’s nose. Proverbial ones would have been much easier to get out...)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Anyone Out There?

This week's quote that has caught my eye:
A man will turn over half a library to make one book. ~Samuel Johnson
Yes, yes, Mr. Johnson, we know. Good readers make good writers. We get it. You are preaching the the choir, sir. So with that in mind, and with summer right around the bend (bringing with it hours and hours of sitting outside in the backyard with the sprinklers running for my two-year-old to bounce around in), I need some reading suggestions. Fun, exhilarating, exciting reads. So, hit me with your best shot readers- anyone read anything good lately???

Monday, April 5, 2010

Anatomy of a Rejection Letter

I’ve been talking to a few fledgling writers recently and found that many of them are either very close to, or completely finished with manuscripts. Most of them also are so nervous about querying literary agents because of the impending rejection that they are doing nothing with their work. So, I thought it would be interesting for you (and cathartic for me) to look at an actual rejection and maybe poke a little fun at it. So, here is a real honest-to-goodness rejection email I have received. Anything in parentheses is my own sarcastic commentary.

Dear (insert brilliant undiscovered, undervalued author’s name here- which is mine in this instance),

Thank you for your recent email and your interest in (name of undeserving agency here). We are always eager to hear from writers who are serious about the business of writing. (And since this is a rejection, we obviously do not feel you are serious about the business of writing). Unfortunately I do not feel that I'm the right representative for your work. (And there it is. You know, you could have saved me some time agent and just sent me this last line in the email. Done and done. But no, let’s let the knife linger a little.)

I have to be very selective of what I choose to represent and all of my decisions are based on a frank assessment of the current needs of the literary markets. The fact that this work doesn't fit my narrow criteria for representation does not mean it couldn't find a home elsewhere. (Ah, the old, “it’s not you, it’s me” line. Love it. This reads like a break-up, doesn’t it?) I urge you to submit your work to other agencies that may be more suited to this type of material. (There are plenty of other fish in the sea, just please stop fishing at my agency).

Well, there it is. The worst thing that can happen when you are querying agents. In all actuality, it’s not that bad. It’s just what you decide to do after you get a few of these in your inbox that will separate you from the thousands of other authors out there with unpublished work. Ugh, thousands...heaven help us all...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Boring the Funny out of Me...

This week at Church, we had a big conference. I sat next to a group of deaf members near the front, facing an interpreter. Since the speaker was literally boring the funny out of me, I decided to turn my attention to the interpreter instead. She was of course signing, but she was also mouthing the words to the deaf group so I could follow along too. The small group was absolutely enthralled with the talk while the rest of us were plotting the speaker's bloody demise just to get him to stop talking.
The difference?
The interpreter was paraphrasing and simplifying the speaker's overly wordy run-on blatherings into succinct little bullet points of goodness. She was rewriting. She was the second draft to his epic failure of a first draft. She was distilling his bird-walking, wandering stories down to 'just the facts, ma'am'.
At the end, the deaf members walked up to shake the speaker's hand while the rest of us skirted out the back trying to avoid eye contact, running for freedom.
For me, this was a good lesson in brevity (which I am well aware, this story does not have) and the importance of rewriting and revisiting. So no, I have not mustered up the courage to start querying again, but I am mustering up the courage to revisit my work, to strengthen it and get it in the best shape it can be for that one final yes to come through.
And just in case you were wondering, next time we have the same guy come and speak to us at church, I'm bringing earplugs and sitting with the deaf members again.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Heavy Drinking...

To salvage what is left of my self-esteem and to shore up some inner-strength, I've stopped querying literary agents for a bit. I need the pause. I need the break. I need people not telling me "no" every time I open my email. But I don't want to break too long because of this wonderful quote I found.

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. ~Ray Bradbury


And while I've never had an alcoholic drink in my life, I understand the sentiment perfectly. The reality is that my book may never get an agent. I won't kid myself- I haven't come to terms with that yet. But, I think I love writing just a bit more than I like the idea of being a writer. And that is what I am trying to focus on. So, I'll stay drunk on the process and leave the "no"-collecting for next month.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ouch. Rejected.

Sixth grade softball tournament. My teacher, Mr. Watson (who had absolutely no soul when he subjected children to this) let the two best ball players pick the teams. Can you guess what happened? Awkward and chubby, I watched as the line of those who needed to get picked grow smaller and smaller until I was the last one standing there. The last one picked for the team.
Ouch. Rejected.

His name was Dan. He was the most beautiful 8th grade boy my 8th grade girl eyes had ever seen. He found out through the grapevine that I liked him. I found out through the grapevine (in record time might I add) that he most certainly did not like me back.
Ouch. Rejected.

I just received my tenth rejection form letter from another literary agent. And do I even need to say it? I do? Fine.
Ouch. Rejected. Epic.

So I look out to the vast array of cyberspace to find solace in my pain. I found Lynn Flewelling's words the most comforting. She said, "So when that first rejection shows up in your mailbox, toast yourself with a tall glass of something very nice. It’s proof that you’re off the porch and running with the big dogs now."

So I cracked open my finest can of diet caffeine-free coke (because that's how I roll) and toasted my 10th rejection. I know that every rejection makes the one epic "yes" I will receive one day that much sweeter. And Mr. Watson, here's hoping you are out there somewhere being picked last for the 60 years and older senior citizen's softball league. Karma, dude.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Murder I wrote?

If you walked past me on the street, I guarantee you wouldn't give me a second look. I'm the girl in the background. The girl you introduce yourself to two or three times because you forget we have met before (honestly, this happens ALL the time...and it's devastating each time it happens).

But, author me is different. Author me kills people with a stroke of my mighty keyboard. Author me writes words I would never say out loud. Author me might rob banks, go on the lam, or be a street-wise private eye with a barrel full of bullets, booze and trouble. Author me might even take home magazines from the doctor's office that definitely aren't meant to be taken home. Author me is just a little crazy. And I am hardly alone.

Graycie Harmon said, "
Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum."

Love, love, love that quote. It's like a come as you aren't party in my head every time I sit down to write. Anything is possible. Yes, yes, I know that's cliche. But it's also the absolute truth. To an author with a story to tell, ANYTHING is possible.

So, let us raise our glasses to good clean girls who scrub floors and change diapers by day, and run mental insane asylums by night... Take joy in the writing process where, say it with me everyone, anything is possible.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Nothin' to it but to do it?

This is going to be a quick post, but I found this story during my internet wanderings today and thought we all might enjoy it.

Sinclair Lewis was invited to talk to some students about the writer's craft. He stood at the head of

the class and asked, "How many of you here are really serious about be writers?" A sea of hands shot up. Lewis then asked, "Well, why aren't you all home writing?" And with that, he walked out of the room.

Friggin' genius.

I think Ronnie Coleman actually coined the phrase, though, as a child of the 80's, I remember it better from 1979's classic "The Muppet Movie", "There ain't nothin' to it but to do it." We can take classes, listen to lectures, meet authors, ready, study, prepare, etc. But even with the greatest of intentions and the best preparations, nothing ever gets done unless rubber meets road...or in our case pen meets paper. So get writing! Like the muppets say, ain't nothin' to it but to do it. And when has a muppet ever steered you wrong?

And if everything else I have shared with you up to this point is not motivation enough to get you writing, let me share one last thought with you- If I can do it, anyone can. Really.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Stuck In The Middle...

The middle sucks.
The middle seat in an airplane.

Middle child syndrome.

The middle ages.

Those weird middle names parents give their kids to honor dear departed Aunt Gertrude.
Middle America (just kidding folks).

Getting to the middle of writing my story was the absolute worst part of this whole novel-writing experience. The beginning was fun and exhilarating, with boundless possibilities. It was almost too easy to write. But toward the middle, the idea train stopped pulling into station like it used to. And there I was, figuratively stuck in Death Valley, mid-day, in mid-July, the next idea train nowhere in sight, buzzards circling the decaying carcass of my story. I think I spent more time staring at a blinking cursor and perfecting flower doodles than actually writing anything productive for weeks, maybe months when I got to the middle.

My friends at rightreading.com say it best. "
It's at the middle where you start to fear that you've painted yourself into a corner, that your work isn't good enough, that you will never finish." No freaking kidding. Been there. Done that. Corner definitely painted.

I remember sending an email to a friend when I had reached the middle of my story. It said something to the effect of, "Poor (main character's name). He's just stuck in the middle of a story that is going nowhere. Will he get the girl? I don't know. Will he win the day? No clue. Might he die in a fiery car crash? It's getting more and more possible." Thankfully that friend was there to stop me from murdering my innocent main character in cold blood. I'm not gonna lie, it got close a time or two.

Rightreading.com goes on to say "
You've got to suck it up and work through this middle patch." Alright, rightreading, you asked me to suck it up, so suck I shall! It helped a little bit to write after the black-hole of the middle. When I started writing pieces of the end, the excitement came back. It brought focus and direction back to the unending middle section.

So good luck to all of you out there stuck in the middle. Though offing your main character in some massive space alien battle would feel really good when your are stuck, you too can get through this!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Eat Your Veggies!

Animal Farm
Catcher in the Rye
Grapes of Wrath
Brave New World
Catch 22
Tess of the D'Ubervilles
Lord of the Flies

What do all of these books have in common?
Classics? Yes.
Famous authors? Of course.
All books I had to read in high school but didn't really enjoy? Most definitely.

All of these books, as my English teachers have told me, are scathing indictments of human nature. They are deep and meaningful and shed a harsh light on the human psyche blah, blah, blah.

Don't get me wrong. These books MUST be read. To me, they are the broccoli, peas and carrots of the literary world. If we are to have a good, solid base in literature or writing, these must be consumed, whether you like it or not (Sorry, I was just channeling my mom there for a minute)

I let books like these stop me from writing for a long time. I really thought good literature had to be about suffering and pain and provide shocking commentary about the social condition. And since I am about as deep as a thimble, there was no way that I was going to be able to produce such deep, meaningful and lasting work as the aforementioned authors had.

But then I had a realization. There are other thimbles out there just like me who may want to read what I want to write. Maybe what I can write would constitute the after dinner mint at the literature buffet. Maybe what I write would be the extra splenda left over in the packet after the rest had been dumped into the after dinner coffee. But I had hope that what I had to say was good enough to at least try to get out there.

So thimbles unite! I'm writing what makes me happy. Even if it is just for me.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Great Uncle Horace

As I am writing to you, I am wearing my metaphorical sweatbands, dolphin shorts, and even leg warmers. Metaphorical leg warmers. I wonder if those look any stupider than real leg warmers do...but I digress.

I'm talking about exercising friends. Exercising our writing muscles.

Why do doughy middle-aged men, who have NO business wearing them, put on spandex bicycle shorts and pound the bike trails on the weekends? Why do 60 year old women turn on their 60 year old copy of "Sweatin' to the Oldies" volume 2 tapes every morning? Why do I park myself in front of a treadmill for thirty minutes everyday though I'd much rather be watching old episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" on Hulu?

The belabored answer to this belabored question: Because its good exercise.

Writing a novel in and of itself is an amazing exercise. It is the workout world's equivalent to a marathon. And sure, anyone could stand at the starting line of a marathon. And almost anyone, whether it be 5 hours later or five days later, can cross the finish line. But what about the exercise we do to get up to that point?

Short writing is great exercise. These silly, insanely narcissistic blog posts are great exercise for my thinking bones. I've even taken up journal writing as good practice, though I shudder for my progeny who will someday have to read it. So while the marathon of writing a novel may be as outlandish as my great uncle Horace with a game leg making up Mount Everest, jotting down thoughts you have every now and then is doable. And even sometimes a little fun.

And I'm sorry Great Uncle Horace, but you and I both know you ain't making it up the side of any moutain anytime soon.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Guts

I found a Sylvia Plath quote on the internet while I was researching ways to break through "writers block" (quick note: nothing great has been said on the subject. I thought I'd save you some time).
She said, "Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it." I immediately copied, pasted, and printed it out. It's hanging on my wall as we speak. I love that she used the word guts.

Putting pen to paper is scary. It takes, well, guts. But there is something even scarier. Giving your fledgling writing to someone to read. As an aspiring author, the only thing that I can compare it to would be to running down the street naked while all your worst enemies from high school hold up signs signifying how much fatter you are now than you were in ninth grade.

Sharing your writing with someone, even someone you trust, can make you feel bare naked. It's uncomfortable because it's the most vulnerable part of you, especially when you are new at it. Heck, for all you know, your work could suck. So you start to sweat and wonder whatever made you start writing in the first place because obviously you can't write! Who do you think you are, huh?

Whoa, I'm getting away from myself.

But getting your writing out there, even if it is terrifying is the price you have to pay to get better. Gut it out. Get the feedback. Get better.

Plath ends by saying, "The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." Well, that and all your high school enemies commenting on your fat butt.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dirty, Rotten Writing

Not many people can claim to have learned a life lesson from the 1988 film, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. But I have.

In the scene, Lawrence Jamieson (Michael Caine) is talking to Freddy (Steve Martin) about life. Lawrence says, “Freddy, as a younger man, I was a sculptor, a painter, and a musician. There was just one problem: I wasn't very good. As a matter of fact, I was dreadful.”

Pause scene there. Back to my life-

In college, I wanted to be artist. I wanted so badly to be deep and mysterious. Don't we all want that in college? I went so far as to even submit a portfolio of "art" to my university in hopes of being accepted to their prestigious visual arts program. Of course I was summarily turned down. I could almost hear the Dean laughing from his ivory tower as he glanced over my "body of work". I didn't blame him. It was well, dreadful.

Back to the movie-

Lawrence Jamieson goes on to say, "Freddy, what I am saying is: know your limitations. You are a moron."

I learned very quickly, and painfully, that the world of visual arts would never include me. I'm an artistic moron. Maybe that's why writing gives me so much pleasure. It's an artistic outlet that has nothing to do with apertures, canvas, charcoal or shading. It’s word-smithing, something anyone can do, though we all do it with varying success.

So here’s to hoping that although I am an artistic moron, let’s hope I fare just a little better in the writing world.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Really, really crappy writing

The great Earnest Hemingway once said, "The first draft of anything is (insert expletive here)."

And that short quote, my friends, has always made me feel better. It also makes me wonder at a real writer's process. Not mine. I admittedly don't know what I'm doing. But I just can't imagine the likes of Hemingway doing what we see so often in cartoons and sitcoms- sitting there with a ream of paper, scribbling something, then balling the paper up and tossing it into the trash can. Can you see Shakespeare doing that? Of course not. From God's mouth to Shakespeare's pen, right? Or wrong?

Maybe in Shakespeare's first draft, Juliet started out as Sally, the plucky, somewhat overweight short order cook for the Capulets. Hey, it's a possibility.

I think what separates the writer from the non-writer is this. A writer puts pen to paper (which can be terrifying in and of itself), writes crap, but then has the hutspah to work with the crap until it is something much more presentable.

Because even if the first draft is *&$%@, it doesn't mean your final draft will be.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Blood from Turnips

Blood from a turnip, blood from a stone...no matter from what you are metaphorically trying to squeeze blood, sometimes it just ain't gonna happen.

I've felt like this sometimes. I put my kid in his jogging stroller, grab my ipod and jogging shoes, and hit the trails ready to be inspired, or to at least get some ideas for the next chapter. But recently, nothing has been coming to me. Nothing. Blood from a turnip.

So I've learned the importance of fallowing. I'm not an English major, so I don't know if putting an -ing on the end of the word fallow is correct, but lets just say for our purposes it is.

The definition of Fallow brought to you by my good friends at dictionary.com-
Land that has undergone plowing and harrowing and has been left unseeded for one or more growing seasons.

Farmers sometimes let plots of land fallow or rest for a season. Overworked land produces poor crops. An overworked mind produces crappy writing. I think of my brain as a field sometimes, and not just because it's full of dirt and bugs. But the field of my head sometimes needs to rest. Sometimes I've squeezed everything out of it. I need to fallow.

During the writing process, I've learned to trust myself enough to walk away, to let my head rest. Let the characters marinate in my brain. When I come back after my season of fallowing, I find that my brain is no longer a turnip, but a field ready to give an excellent growing season.

Inspiration

Recently, I was talking to a very accomplished author who is now a "book doctor" (though she calls herself something that sounds a lot more fancy) about the process of writing. She said what most authors say, which is "read everything you can". And of course I agree with that. But, I haven't found many mainstream authors who say, "watch all the tv you can". That would just sound stupid coming from an author, wouldn't it? Good thing I'm anonymous!

So kids, watch some good tv.

This is going to sound like a non-sequiter, but bear with me. Lady Gaga. See, I told you. Still bearing with me? I was in the middle of trying to write one of my female characters. I'd first written her as just plain evil, but she was coming off very one-dimensional. And then, Lady Gaga happened. First let me say, I'm not a huge fan of hers. I'm not even sure I've ever seen her without something elaborate stuck to her face. Is anyone sure what she even looks like? Anyway, she was on either the Mtv music or movie awards and did a performance that was so outlandish, so strange and creepy, it was inspirational. I loved the desperation and even craziness that dripped out of her. She helped me write this flat character as something much more multi-faceted.

So watch tv, movies, plays. Yes, of course read everything you can. But if you ask me, there ain't nothin' wrong with a little tv time when you are trying to write.

I'm writing a Book

"I'm writing a book."
How often do we hear this from someone we just met? It's like when the 250 pound woman we meet at a party says "I'm training for a marathon" or that stoner we knew from high school says "I'm going to go to medical school". Sure you are. So we nod and smile and worry about their the state of their brain matter that led to these delusions of grandeur.

It seems that most people go through a creative period in their lives when they fancy themselves an author, though it usually doesn't amount to much, excuse my pessimism.

So on that note friends, I am writing a book. Feel free to roll your eyes. If I were one of my friends or family members, I sure would. But here is where I will collect what I have learned, what I have done right, and what I have done terribly, terribly wrong.

Welcome to the show.