What I Learned This Week

I’m often told that my writing is very honest- that I’m not afraid of putting myself out there on the page.  And I definitely find this is true.  In fact, I’m more honest in my writing than in actual conversation.  Not because I am untruthful in real conversation, but because I often just can’t find the right way to express myself.  Somehow, in writing, I always can.

I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon a lot lately.  Namely due to this guy I went out on a couple of dates with.  Let me emphasize A COUPLE OF DATES.  I’ll be more precise.  TWO dates.  You’ll see why the number is important in a minute.

This guy is very nice and we had a good time hanging out together.  He’s also very religious.  Not religious in the sense that he thinks you’ll go to hell for smoking, drinking, and cursing, because he certainly does those things, but religious in the sense that he feels a very deep faith in God and Jesus.

I respect his faith.  I respect anyone who is able to have an unwavering belief that God is the answer to anything.  But.  I am not one of those people/  I believe in God, but I don’t always like him.  This turned out to be a problem for said guy.

Personally, I think discussing religion on the first couple of dates is a BIG MISTAKE.  But, God isn’t as important to me as it is to him, so the subject came up.  I tried to explain I wasn’t comfortable talking about it, but it was important to him.  I finally wrote down my entire history with church and God because I felt like I wasn’t expressing myself very well verbally.

I am really proud of what I wrote.  I found it incredibly beautiful and honest.  One day maybe I’ll share it with you, but it is still very personal.

The whole experience also made me think about myself in a new way.  I’ve decided I’m pretty awesome.  I’m not saying that from a conceited place, but from a it’s-time-I-had-a-little-more-confidence place.  Because really, I’m an awesome person.  If things had worked out with the guy, he would have been lucky to have me.  Because I’m funny, and witty, and I don’t always take everything so seriously.  I can have fun sitting in the Garden Center at Wal-Mart playing dots.  (One of the activities on our first date.)  I’m smart, and dammit, I’m going to do something incredible in life.  I don’t know what that thing is yet, but I believe it’s going to happen.  I have passion.  I care about people.  I’m thoughtful.  I’m pretty when I get dressed up.  I’m freaking awesome, and just because no guy has been able to handle all of my awesomeness up til now, doesn’t mean that no guy ever will.  Because some guy is going to see it.  And he is going to be incredibly awesome, too.

One other thing I learned this week (which has absolutely nothing to do with the other two things), thanks to Nathan Bransford’s blog: I use too much repetition in my writing.  It is always good when you see a post by an agent that helps you recognize and remedy a problem!  Thank you, Nathan!

So, to recap, what I’ve learned this week:

1) I’m able to express myself more completely through written words.

2) I’m pretty f***ing awesome.

3) I need to edit for repetition.

A pretty good week, I think!

What the F***

You may remember a few weeks ago when I found a brand new motto for life: What the hell?  It can’t hurt to try.

Yeah.

Well, that’s pretty much down the drain.

The contest I entered, I didn’t make it through to the next round.  1000 entries made it through.  Mine was not one of them.  So, yeah.

I knew going in I wasn’t going to win.  I knew going in that no one thinks my attempts at queries are any good.  So it’s not a surprise that I didn’t make it through to the next round.  But it does suck.  It kinda pisses me off that no one in the publishing world is ever going to read my book because I can’t write an interesting query.

Maybe my book sucks.  Maybe it isn’t just the query.  But I don’t really believe that my book is bad.  I really don’t.  It’s not the greatest thing ever written, but I think it’s pretty good.  And yet, I can’t move forward with it because I can’t get an agent interested in it.

Or maybe that’s my real problem: my book is bad, but I don’t realize it.  Which may just be the saddest thing ever.

So my new motto is What the F***.  I like it better than the other one.  It’s more me, I think.

Confidence

Where do writers get their confidence?  Because I can’t seem to find mine.  I used to have some, remember back in November when I was so excited to start sending out queries?  Well, now I feel paralyzed.  I have no confidence, no courage to send out a new round of queries.  I know I need to.  I’ve edited Twenty-Five to death. TO DEATH.  It’s at the point now where I don’t want to make any changes again until a professional (i.e. an agent, editor, or publisher) has read it.  But I can’t work up the nerve to send it out there to professionals.

The whole query process just makes me sick to my stomach.  You have to write a query letter which has to be so knock-your-socks-off fantastic that the agent thinks, “Hmmm… that’s interesting.  I want to read the first couple of chapters.”  Because no matter how knock-your-socks-off fantastic the query letter is, chances are it isn’t going to be soooo fantastic that the agent is going to want to read the whole book.  Unless you’re a friend of mine who has 6 full requests pending at the moment!  (YAY!  She’s so freaking talented if she DOESN’T get an agent than I might as well give up forever.)

Then, once the agent has the first couple of chapters, they have to knock them out of their chair, pick them up, and knock them out again in order for the agent to think, “Hmmm… that’s interesting.   I want to read the rest of the book.”

Then, the rest of the book has to be the ABSOLUTE BEST THING that agent has ever read.  And even then, you may get this response: “While I think your writing/book/story has promise, unfortunately it is not a project I can take on at the moment.”  Or something similar.

So, if you are out there querying- how are you doing it?  Because I can’t.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me.  I don’t think my book is bad.  I want people to read it.  But I can’t send out a damn query letter.

I think it’s the query letter that is my actual problem.  They are so freaking hard to write.  I can’t seem to boil the 96K words down into 250 words and it still be interesting.  I know that people do it every day, so why can’t I?  Every time I try, I lose my voice.  I lose the spark that makes my book special.  Because the truth is, even though it deals with a very simple idea- love found, love lost, love found again- it is incredibly complex.  There are so many components that make it unique and special and different, but I can’t put all those layers into a query letter.  And I can’t seem to figure out which ones are the most special, the most unique- the ones that are going to knock the socks off an agent.

If anyone can share some of their confidence with me, I’d really appreciate it!

What’s at Stake

My desperate wish is for someone out there to see something valuable in the stories I’ve written.  I’ve been feeling really pessimistic about Twenty-Five lately, but deep down, I don’t think it’s a bad book.  Even though the subject matter isn’t really unique, it isn’t a formulaic book about love.  That’s where I have a problem in writing my query letter.

I keep getting the suggestion to answer three questions in my query:
1. What does the MC want?
2. What does she have to do to get it?
3. What happens if she fails to get what she wants (the stakes)?

Okay, so I’m going to try, but this is where I’ve been having problems, answering these questions.  You would think this would be easy, but I don’t think it’s so black and white as these questions seem.  Here goes:

1. Abigail wants love.  She wants it so badly she doesn’t believe she’ll ever find it.  She wants to be a journalist, she wants to have a column published in the magazine she works for.

2. To get love, she just has to be open to it.  She has to believe that Ben really does care about her and that she deserves his love.  To get her column, she has to persevere and write from her heart.  She has to not care what others think.

3. Here’s the issue.  She can’t have both, but she gets both.  Ben falls in love with her, she falls in love with Ben.  She gets her “Facing Your Fears” column and then she gets offered a column in London.

She can take the column in London and advance her career, but doing so means leaving Ben behind.  Why does it mean leaving Ben behind?  Because she’s scared- her old insecurities pop up and once again she thinks she’s not good enough for him.  She thinks that he won’t be willing to do long distance and when he doesn’t encourage her to take the job she takes that as him saying their relationship can only exist while she stays in America.

She could pass up on the column and stay in America with Ben, but to her that means facing a lifetime of regret and resentment.  Regret that she didn’t take the opportunity to advance her career further, knowing that turning down one job puts her in a negative light with her editors and the possible chance that she won’t be given any more opportunities.  And resentment of Ben that he didn’t support her and allowed her to pass up the opportunity.

To her it seems like an impossible decision.  She chooses to take the job and break up with Ben.  She’s wrong- but that’s the decision she makes.  He would have been willing to do the long distance, but she never asks him to.  Of course, the fault isn’t all on Abby, he doesn’t offer it either.

So what’s at stake?  Her relationship with Ben and her job.  In the end, they find a way to make both work, but it’s a long time coming.

So now, how the HELL do I put all that in a query letter?

Query Update

I’m going to hold off on sending more queries until mid-January.  I’ve just got too much on my plate right now with trying to find a new job and can’t really concentrate on revising my query letter.

The official count now stands at 18 letters sent (I know, so much for sending one every day in November).  I’ve gotten 10 rejections and haven’t heard from 8.  Of the 8 I haven’t heard from, 6 don’t respond unless they are interested in seeing more, so if I haven’t heard from them by the end of December, I’m moving them to the reject column.

I’m not discouraged completely.  I know it takes a long time to find an agent and it’s going to take a lot of rejections before I do, if I ever do.  I’m discouraged slightly because I feel like I queried some of my top choices too early.  I should have held back on one or two of the agents that I really thought would like the book until I had test-ran my query letter a bit more.  Oh well.  Maybe with the next book.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season!!

RANDOM

I found this quote online the other day and I have fallen in love with it: “I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”  ~Agatha Christie.

It’s just so damn true.  I’m in the middle of probably the hardest time in my life right now.  I’m financially drowning and my social calendar has never been bleaker, but I still know that life is this precious gift I’ve been given.  Yeah, life sucks once and a while and lately it’s sucked all the time, but even days of 99% shittyness (sorry, spell check refuses to tell me how to properly spell this word) there’s always at least 1% greatness.

Take today for example.  I just logged on to my dashboard to check things out and even though I haven’t posted anything new in a while, there hasn’t been a single day in the past 2 weeks where this blog hasn’t gotten at least 6 views.  That’s pretty cool.  I know it doesn’t seem like a lot, but when I first started I’d have several days in a row with 0 views, so I feel like I’m moving up in the world.  Especially since I don’t really know how to advertise myself very well yet.  And, I checked the search terms people used to find my page and this was one of them: a give stick a pen up her virgin.  I’m TOTALLY serious about that.  Someone typed “a give stick a pen up her virgin” into google or yahoo or some other search engine and then clicked on a link to my blog.  Isn’t that just the most hilarious search term you’ve ever heard?

Makes me kind of glad that even in cyberspace I’m the first virgin people think of!

Oh, and to continue my ramblings of randomness, I’ve started work on a new project called The Death Effect.  I’ll create a page for it along with my other projects in a day or so.

And I got the nicest rejection email today.  Here’s a little snippet: “I’ve read your sample pages, and while I think you show great potential as a writer, I’m sorry to say that the project just isn’t a perfect fit with my current needs. This has less to do with your strengths as a writer and more to do with my goals as an agent and the trends of the current literary marketplace.”

Well, thank you, Ms. Super Agent.  I would have really enjoyed working with you, but how can I be upset when you tell me I have potential?  I might just print out that one sentence and stick on the wall behind my desk so I can stare at it when I’m writing.  That’s not weird, right?

OH!  And, Twenty-Five has made it to the #9 spot on the All-Time Rankings at The Next Big Writer.  I’m pretty happy about that.  I’m waiting for the administration to realize it so that my novel is given a spot on the All-Time Top Ten list.  When he does realize it, I’ll get access to a cool logo that I can use when marketing/advertising/selling my book, and you can bet I’ll be re-writing my query to include it’s shiny new status!

So, that’s what’s been going on in my life.  Oh, and I’m looking for a new job, but I may have mentioned that before.  Keep your fingers crossed for me.  I have to have one by January 1st.  Anyone out there in cyberland looking for a freelance editor?  I’m pretty kick-ass at finding grammatical errors and I can use a comma with the best of them!  I don’t have any “education” or “experience” but I can give you several references of writers on TNBW who love my editing skills!

Man, this post has really lived up to its title!

Update 11/22/09

I just heard back from the agent who requested a partial.  They passed.  Said the story was flat.

 

NANO is not going well.  I’ve been so stressed and busy I haven’t really worked on it at all.

 

Bad day today, but hopefully tomorrow will be a good one.

Reading Agent Blogs Really Freaks Me Out

Okay, so I’ve been trying to be a good little writer and be “in the know” by joining writing websites, researching agents and literary agencies, and following writing blogs. But most agents’ blogs really scare the crap out of me. I’ll read blogs about character, plot, POV, etc. and suddenly have a panic attack. Am I doing what the agent says NOT to do? Is my work the kind of thing an agent takes one look at, groans, then turns to his/her trusty computer to educate the rest of the world NOT to do what I’ve just done? Dear God, I hope not. I don’t THINK that I’m doing all the wrong things I’m reading about, but how can I be subjective of my own work? Does anyone else get really freaked out after reading agent blogs?

Synopsis for Twenty-Five

Okay, friends, I need feedback on this synopsis.  I have to send it out to an agent and I need to know if it grabs your attention.  Any places that are too boring, too confusing?  Is the writing good?  Does it make you want to read the whole book?  WARNING SPOILERS hahahahaha   If you want to be surprised by the ending of the book, don’t read this!

 

When twenty-eight year old BEN HARRIS’s car crashes into ABIGAIL BRONSEN on her twenty-fifth birthday, neither is prepared for the instantaneous attraction they both experience.  It isn’t until a month later at a chance encounter that the sparks reignite.  They make arrangements for a first date, one of many to come.

Abigail is wary of the relationship at first, having never had a serious boyfriend.  Ben is also hesitant as memories of a cheating ex-girlfriend haunt him.  And Abigail’s reluctance doesn’t help.  But slowly, Abigail learns to trust Ben.  Her trust is tested when she opens herself up and reveals a personal decision: to remain a virgin until she gets married.

Ben is surprised and confused by the news.  What is the appropriate response to that sort of news in this, the twenty-first century?  And, how is it possible that such a gorgeous girl can still be a virgin at twenty-five?  Abigail explains her decision to wait is based on a story her mother told her as a teenager and on the desire to be truly connected and loved by the person she shares such a special experience with.

Ben isn’t sure he’s prepared to give Abigail that commitment, but his own sexual history makes it easier for him to try.  In his last several relationships, sex complicated things, leaving Ben with nothing more than memories and a broken heart.  He doesn’t want to risk hurting Abby, as he’s come to call her, or himself by getting intimate too quickly.

As the couple struggles to build their relationship without sex and in the midst of career troubles for both, Ben finds a list Abby made in high school.  “25 Things I Want to Accomplish by Age 25.”  He always knew her age was a touchy subject and the list tells him why- she hasn’t crossed anything off.  Ben embarks on a secret quest to help her complete the list.  He convinces her to donate blood, ride a motorcycle, go scuba diving, and learn how to surf, falling deeper in love every step of the way.

One thing he can’t help her cross off is item #4, “Write a column in a national magazine or newspaper.”  At least, he can’t help her directly.  But his push for her to give blood leads her to write an article titled “Facing Your Fears,” which the editor of the magazine she works for decides to publish.

Everything in Abby’s life now seems perfect.  She’s in love with a wonderful man who’s helping her tackle her fears and insecurities and writing a monthly column for the magazine where only a few months ago she worked in the mailroom.

On her twenty-sixth birthday, Abby experiences a new collision, of a very different nature than the previous year.  Her editor offers her a new column, “An American in Europe,” which would require her to move to London.  Before Abby can discuss the opportunity with Ben, he presents her with a photo album showing all the list items he’s covertly helped her cross off over the year.  It ends with a promise that he will marry her someday.  The amazing gift floods Abby with doubts about the decision she must make.

She is forced to choose between moving to London to advance her career and staying in the United States with Ben, the first man she’s ever loved, the man she wants to marry.

She chooses to take the job, knowing she would have always regretted passing it up, leaving both herself and Ben brokenhearted.

Ben can’t understand why the new job is so important to her when she already has a column and his love in the States.  He’s too hurt and stubborn to ask her to do long distance and she doesn’t want to force him to attempt it.  Her old insecurities flare up and she convinces herself that he’d be happiest without her.  She is incredibly wrong.

With Abby in London, Ben tries to forget about her, to move on.  But everything reminds him of her: a pink baseball hat, the scent of vanilla, riding his motorcycle.  He tries to date again, but the vapid blonde he chooses is so devoid of interesting conversation she only reinforces the qualities he loved in Abby: a good sense of humor, modesty, her struggle for independence.

He throws himself into his work, the one place he can be free of Abby-reminders, until he learns she recommended him to a journalist friend for a human-interest story on his athletic complex in Sports Illustrated.  He’s thrilled about the opportunity, but perplexed by Abby’s involvement in it.

When the article comes out, his first instinct is to call Abby to celebrate, but the fact that she can’t be there in person for him weakens his desire to speak with her and ignites his anger with her all over again.  Meanwhile, Abby in London reads the article and has the same instinct to call, but loses her nerve, thinking he’d only be upset to hear from her.

Not long after the SI article is published, Abby comes back to the States to attend the wedding of Ben’s best friends MATT and TRISH.  She’s hoping to reconcile, but Ben is determined to get closure once and for all.  He vents all of his frustration out, bringing Abby to tears, and declares that he never wants to see her again.  Her plans of kissing and making up torn to pieces, she returns to London, broken in heart and spirit.

A few weeks later, Trish confronts Ben about his behavior at the wedding and encourages him to read the articles Abby has written since she left him.  Each one details how much she misses and loves him, how she never would have had the courage to go after her dreams without his support, and how badly she wants him back.  The final article pleads for a second chance at Matt and Trish’s wedding.

Ben realizes not only that he is still very much in love with her, but also how wrong he was not to encourage her new job opportunity.  He rushes to the airport and takes the next plane to London, praying he hasn’t lost her for good.  He waits for hours on her doorstep for the chance to beg her forgiveness.  Reading her articles over and over, he holds out hope for a future with the girl who stole his heart when he smashed into her car.

When she arrives, she’s confused to find him, but he explains he hadn’t read her articles before the wedding.  They both apologize for the mistakes in judgment that led them to break up and live in misery for eight months.  Ben presents Abby with a new list, “What I Want to Accomplish Before I Die.”  It includes ten items, all about their reconciliation and new life together.  He gets down on one knee and proposes while a crowd of on-lookers cheer them on.

Abby grabs his shirt collar and raises him to his feet.  Her kiss says it all.  Yes.  Of course she’ll marry him.