Weekly Update

On Monday I didn’t do any work really, but did jot down a few ideas I had for editing Twenty-Five. Not much, but thinking about edits is better than nothing at all.

On Tuesday I began editing my first chapter of Twenty-Five. I worked on incorporating the first scene I took out and making it less of a backstory information dump by weaving the character stuff into the dialogue of Abigail’s birthday party with her family. I’m hoping it works better, but we’ll just have to see.

On Wednesday I wrote a little of The Death Effect.  About three notebook pages, which is probably like a page and a half typed.  Again, not a lot, but even a little momentum is better than none.

On Thursday, I did nothing!  I had to work at the orthodontist’s all day and then had event review for a wedding in the evening.  Didn’t leave much time for anything else 😦

On Friday, I did nothing again!  I had plenty of time because the only thing I did work wise was the final update of the timeline for the wedding and then the actual rehearsal for the wedding.  But I took some much needed ME time.  I’ve been working non-stop the past couple of weeks, so it was nice not to do anything.

Saturday, sadly, nothing.  I had the wedding most of the day, though, and was too tired and mentally drained to do anything productive when I got home, so I just watched a marathon of Friends.  Freaking amazing show.

Today, I opened up Twenty-Five and tried to figure out how to end my new/old chapter one.  Everything I typed didn’t work, so I tried to move on to chapter two, with the hope of coming back, but then my sister, who lives two hours away, came over because she was getting her hair done by our other sister, and we ended up going out to dinner.  I just got back and I’m going to go work on chapter two.  I’m worried because I’ve decided to take Abigail’s POV of the car accident out completely.  Probably a crazy idea because I got great feedback on it, but I think I’m bogging the story down by having the accident in both her’s and Ben’s POVs, and I just finished a chapter in her’s, so I need to have his now to keep the voices even.  If it sucks, I can always go back to the other version.

So that was my week in writing.  I hope you had more success!

Starting with Action…

When I was workshopping Twenty-Five on TNBW, several reviewers told me I needed to delete the opening scene and jump straight into the action.  So many reviewers in fact, that eventually I broke down and listened to them.  And I didn’t have second doubts about following that advice until I got my rejection from Scott Eagan.  He said that there was a lack of character development.  I wondered at the time if my character development suffered because I deleted the opening scene.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately.  I’ve read 13 books since the start of the year.  And not a single one of them starts off going straight into the action.  Granted, one is Jane Austen and no books from the early nineteenth century started with action (at least none that I’ve read), but the other 12 are all late twentieth or twenty-first century.  So….  My thoughts on that are that maybe I don’t need to start with action immediately.  Maybe that’s just a rule they throw out in writing workshops and on agent blogs because it sounds great in theory and because books that do it well, do it great.  But it doesn’t make sense for my romance novel which is based around the characters and not around what happens.

I took a couple days and re-read my MS.  Again.  And I really noticed the lack of character development at the beginning.  I was shocked, honestly.  I never thought that was a problem I had.  I assumed the biggest problem with Twenty-Five was that the plot wasn’t unique enough, which is still a problem when it comes to writing the query, but I actually think it kinda works for this book.  Anyways, my point was, it looks like you can’t listen to everything reviewers say.  Now, I’m not stupid or vapid or naive enough to believe that if I add that scene back in it’s going to magically fix my character development problem.  The opening scene is going to need a lot of editing and the action scene is going to need a lot of editing to make it work with the opening.  It’s going to be a lot of work.  But I believe in this book.  And I know I’ve said that a million times.  But I do.  So I’m going to do the work and I’m actually kind of excited about it.  It kind of makes me sick at the same time, but I’m going to focus on the excitement.

Getting Back in the Swing of Things, Writing Things, That Is

I’ve decided to stop p***y-footing around.  And I use the asterisks because I hate that word, but I can’t deny that that is exactly what I’ve been doing with my writing lately.  It is time for me to really try to get an agent.  No more feeling sorry for myself because query writing sucks (which it does, btw).

For the rest of this month, if I’m not working on wedding stuff or actually at work, I’m going to be revising Twenty-Five again, working on my query letter, and researching new agents to query.  A friend of mine from TNBW thinks I have a good shot with British agents, so I’m going to add a bunch to my list.  I’m not giving up on getting an agent for Twenty-Five until I’ve exhausted every single possible agent out there.

Beginning in May I’ll be sending out all of those queries, and since sending out queries really doesn’t take that much time, I’ll be devoting the rest of my free time to writing.  Because I need to finish The Death Effect.  Anytime I read portions of TDE, I love it, but I very rarely work on it.  I’m going to finish it.  I am determined that Twenty-Five will not be a fluke, I will finish another book!  I will, I will, I will!

Your job, my lovely readers, is to hold me accountable.  I am really going to need your help.  If I haven’t posted in a couple of days, leave me a comment or send me an email asking for an update- even if you don’t care for an update.  I need motivation, I need goals and deadlines.  My goal is to have sent at least 50 query letters by the end of May and at least 60k words of TDE.  Since I’ve already sent 18 query letters that means I have to send 32 letters, and since TDE is already at 28,535 words, I only have to write 31,465 words.  Now if I can just forget that it took me five months to write the 28k words I already have, then maybe that 31k won’t seem so daunting…

Think positively, Rach.  You can do it.  You can do it.

Irritated and Inadequate in North Carolina

Dear fellow Bloggers,

I’m slightly irritated.  I know, big shocker.  I tend to get irritated at the drop of a hat, but at least I recognize that about myself, right? Possibly why I’m still single?  But I digress…

Okay, so why am I irritated?  I just finished reading a book.  I both enjoyed the book and hated it.  Isn’t that the worst?  I enjoyed it because I was rooting for two of the characters and really wanted a love story for them.  I hated it because it did all the things we aspiring writers are told not to do and did not do them in a way that made me say, “Well, if you’re going to break the rules, do it like that.”  It broke all those rules and did it in way that I was annoyed throughout most of the book thinking, I SO would have loved to critique this book before it went to the agent, maybe then there’d be fewer instances of POV head-hopping, information backstory dumps, more explanation of what certain things that may not be familiar to the entire world are, and a helluv a lot more character depth, growth, and development.

This particular book was the third one published by this author.  I wonder if the glaring rule-breaking was present in her first book.  I wonder if she was able to get the first book past agent gatekeepers with these same really annoying elements.  Actually makes me want to read the first book.  Isn’t that weird?  But my point is, that I think it’s so much easier once you have an agent and you’ve had other books published to produce a mediocre book.  Why weren’t the obvious instances of POV head-hopping addressed before this book was published?  My guess is because it didn’t go through as much editing before it went to the agent and publisher.  Because the author already had the agent and publisher.

And of course, thinking this way about a book that I’m holding in my hands and reading makes me think about my own book.  Makes me wonder if I’ll ever have the courage to attempt another round of queries, if I’ll ever be able to hold it in my hands, bound, with a cover bearing my name as the author.  I think that it should be out there in the world, that it would make people happy to read it.  But I can’t pluck up the courage to sit down, write a query, and send it out.  I believe the book is good.  I know that the only thing holding me back is me, I’m just not really sure why I’m holding myself back.  Isn’t that what cripples most people in pursuing their dreams?  Themselves?  What am I afraid of?  Being told I’m not good enough, I think.

In all honestly, I think that fear has plagued me my whole life.  The fear of being inadequate.  And yet, I make myself inadequate by not just going for it, by not believing that I AM good enough.

I told that story the other day about the waiter who hit on me and I tried to make it funny, because when I step back and think about it, it really was funny.  But the truth is, I didn’t find it that funny when I wrote about it.  When he told me I was beautiful, my first instinct was to laugh and immediately dismiss it as a joke.  I certainly didn’t feel beautiful and couldn’t really understand why he would say that.  The more I thought about it the less funny it became.  When I left the restaurant and got into my car, I imagined telling people what had happened and my next thought was that no one would believe me.  Or that people would believe that it had happened, but not that the guy actually meant what he said.  I did tell a few people, I guess in the hopes that they wouldn’t have that reaction, and no one did.  And you know what my next thought was?  That they did have that reaction internally but were keeping it to themselves.

WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THAT PICTURE?

I’m never going to have confidence in myself if my brain automatically goes to that place where I can’t believe it when someone says something nice about me.  I’ll always be “not good enough” if I don’t allow myself to be good enough.  I don’t know why I’m sharing this with the world, if indeed the few people who read this blog can be considered the world.  I guess because I write now.  Even if sometimes it does make me feel inadequate.  And maybe writing this will force me to be good enough for myself so that I can take my book, that I spent a year pouring my heart into, and actually try and get it into the hands of someone who can make it good enough for the world.

Sincerely,

Irritated and Inadequate in North Carolina

Officially Backed Up

After the almost-catastrophe of losing my flash drive, several of my readers helped with suggestions on ways of backing up my work should my spaztasticness ever result in loss of all of my writing again.

First, I tried Google docs.  It worked, but it was frustrating.  It took forever to upload all of my documents and my larger documents wouldn’t upload at all.  Not really helpful for backup when I can’t save my MS.  I had to create a new Google Document and copy and paste one chapter at a time.  It wouldn’t save if I tried to do more than one chapter at once.  And it would only let me save half of Twenty-Five in one document, so for both my first and second draft I have two documents: one with the first half, one with the second.  Again, not very helpful and certainly not efficient.

Next I tried Dropbox.  I liked this so much better.  I had to download the program onto my computer, which I didn’t want to do because I hate saving a bunch of stuff on the hard drive, but luckily I have a Mac and it’s still relatively new, so no slow-goings yet.  Anyways.  I was able to highlight all the folders I had on my flash drive and just move them over to Dropbox- no upload required.  It was so fast and I didn’t have to go through and re-create all of my folders from scratch to keep my work organized.  I’m officially in love with Dropbox!

So you’re probably wondering what the picture above has to do with all of this.  Well, it was one of the sample pictures when my Dropbox was created.  I like it.  Too bad I don’t play chess.

In other news- I added a ton of my friends from TNBW to my blogroll.  Check them out!

2 Things. No, 5 Things. Well, Really 10 Things.

Sometimes I like to read the Tag Surfer on writing and come across very interesting blogs. This week, I found 2 I really enjoyed.

The first is A Broken Laptop, by Mercedes.  I clicked on Mercedes’s blog initially because it had a picture of a cute guy- pathetic, I know.  But my last experience with Religious Guy did not turn out so great, so my interest in CUTE guys has expanded.  Okay, moving back to the point.  The post with the cute guy was about a contest Mercedes and said cute guy (whom I will now refer to as Scottish Simon- because Simon is his name and he is Scottish and I like alliteration- wait, did I use “whom” correctly there?) are engaging in.  She has to finish a chapter a week and he has to write 5,000 words a week.  If one of them completes their goal and the other doesn’t, Completer is declared the winner for the week and gets a reward.  This week Mercedes won and her reward: posting a picture of Scottish Simon’s tattoo on her blog on Monday.

While I love cute guys and absolutely ADORE cute guys with tattoos, that is not the actual reason this post intrigued me.  I really like the idea of competing with someone else to achieve goals.  Because, let’s face it, I’m a fierce competitor (just ask Religious Guy about our game of Rummy or “Say the First Thing that Comes to Mind” or the other game we played that I can’t remember the name of right now) and an over-achiever (just ask anyone I went to high school with).  I need some kind of stimulus to work on TDE.  It’s coming along very slowly.  I don’t think I can start any kind of competition until May, though, because I have 2 weddings in April.  Soooooo… Anyone want to have a writing competition with me?  I’m not sure what my goal will be yet, but I’ll think of something.  Sadly, should I lose, I have no tattoo for the winner.

One other aspect of Mercedes’s blog that really intrigued me was her “Writers in Masks” series.  She features a writer a week with a blurb/link to their blog/publishing credits along with a photo of the writer in a mask of their choosing.  I found it really interesting that the masks all seemed to match the writer’s blurb in some way, either the tone or their preferred genre and style of writing.  It made me think about what my own mask would be.  I have one picture from my sister’s wedding that I like, I’m covering my face with both hands and I think that matches my writing pretty well.  I tend to hide myself behind my writing, i.e. behind my hands (since those are the instruments I use to write).  What kind of mask represents you and your writing?  Check out Mercedes’s blog for more info on how to become one of her “Writers in Masks.”

The second blog I found was The Adams Zone.  This post was all about learning from the mistakes we make as writers, but also learning from our successes.  Linda listed five things she would do differently when working on her next project, based on her previous experience in writing a novel.  She also listed five things she would do again because they worked the first time.  I found this to be a wonderful exercise, at least, I found the idea of it wonderful.  So I’m going to try it for myself.  As mentioned above, progress on TDE is going really slowly.  And TDE is not the first project I’ve attempted since finishing 25.  I haven’t really sat down to examine what worked for me on 25 and what didn’t work on the projects I haven’t finished.  I think if I do, I may be able to identify why it was so easy to “finish” 25 and so difficult to finish anything else.  And I use finish in quotation marks, because a book is never finished until it makes it to the bookshelves, and even then changes can be made between printings.  (Yes, I’m being optimistic here with the hope that my book is going to be so popular it will go through multiple printings during my lifetime. HA!)  I’m going to change the exercise slightly and just list ten things I’ve learned work (or don’t work) for me.

Here there are, 10 Things

1.) Writing Chronologically– This doesn’t work for me.  While writing 25, I always wrote whatever scene came to mind, never worrying about where it went in the book.  This actually CREATED the chronology for me without having to outline right away because main events  put smaller scenes into perspective.  I learned what had to come BEFORE such-and-such happened and it was easy to imagine what would come after.  I tried to write my NANO project, Anita’s Dream Diary, in chronological order.  It sucked.  The first chapter was great, but it all went downhill after that because I didn’t really know where the story was going.

2.) Outlining– This works for me, but only AFTER I’ve started writing.  I wrote my first 25 outline after I wrote half the book.  I wrote my first TDE outline after I wrote about 10K words.  Again, neither of these works were written chronologically.  I tried outlining The First Mermaid after only writing two chapters, but it just made me feel stuck.  I didn’t want to continue working on the story.

3.) Critiquing– Getting reviews from other writers and readers is great.  But I’ve discovered I need to wait until the work is in final first draft stage to start asking for help.  I mean, it needs to have a beginning, a middle, and an end that flow cohesively together before I start asking people to tear it apart.  I’ve tried getting critiques as I write and they just make me want to cry and trash the whole work.  I’m not encouraged to continue working on writing the rest of the book because so many flaws are found in Chapter 1.  Flaws need to be fixed, yes.  But not if that means you stop writing altogether.  For me, editing is stage two.  I’ll use reviews and critiques once the entire story has been written down.  It feels like progress is being made when I can sit down and edit several chapters as once, rather than trying to make chapter 1 perfect before moving on to chapter 2.

4.) Critiquing– Yes, it gets a second point on the list.  Critiquing is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.  Readers can find flaws in your work that you overlook.  They recognize plot holes, typos, cliches, everything and anything that you don’t want to survive before an editor sees it.  I planned on stopping 25 at a certain point.  My reviewers made me realize that the end of the story I originally envisioned was NOT the end of the story.  The book is SO much better now because of critiques.

5.) First Drafting by Hand– I’ve mentioned this several times.  My first drafts suck.  I mean really suck.  But, by handwriting them first, I get a second shot at my first draft when I type it.  My thoughts and ideas flow more easily when I have a pen in my hand than when I am typing.  I even write a good portion of my blog posts by hand first.  Not all of them, but at least half.  After finishing 25, I started typing almost all of my other ideas first and found that I got stuck at around 10-16K words.  25 was at least 75% hand-written before I typed a single word.  I had 60K words without even realizing it.

6.) Writing for Me25 is the love story I want for myself.  I wrote it because I was sick and tired of having nothing good going for me.  I wrote it for me.  When I started other projects, they weren’t really for me.  They weren’t really ideas I felt a strong personal connection to.  From now on, I’m going to write stories that I will enjoy, forget the rest of the world.  Because if I like them, then I’ll put more work and effort into them, more passion and heart.  And hopefully the world will like that.

7.) Simple Plots25 is a simple plot with complex characters.  It is based in reality.  I think I did this very well.  My attempts at complicated intricate plots really didn’t work.  I think I have more talent for bringing out the emotions in characters than in putting them in a series of impossible situations.

8.) First Person POV– I think this is the most natural voice for me to use.  When I’m intending to write in third person, I find myself slipping into first.  It’s so much easier to express the characters feelings when I am in first person.  25 was written completely in Abby’s first person perspective, then on second draft revisions, I added in Ben’s first person perspective, which resulted in a much fuller, deeper story.  I’m using both first and third for TDE, but every time I start writing a character’s scene who is supposed to be in third person, I start writing in first without thinking about it!  I have to go back and change everything!  But, I’m not giving up on third person completely.  I think it is one of the things I should really work on mastering, even if I end up writing in first person for every other project I ever do.

9.) Character Description (Physical)– This is something I don’t do very well.  I think it is because when I’m reading a book someone else has written, I often hate their descriptions of the way the characters look.  I always picture the character differently in my own head.  So, when I write, I want to leave character descriptions open so that the reader can picture the character however they want.  I’ve found though, for the most part, that my readers haven’t liked this.  They want at least a little physical description.  That’s why I was doing the writing exercises over the past two weeks.  In 25, I’m going to actually have to go back and add in more description for some of the minor characters.  There’s several that I never describe at all!  I need to go back into TDE and add in some for a good majority of the characters, as well.  Whew, lots of work ahead of me!

10.) Unnecessary Words– There are certain words I use way too much: THAT, JUST, HAD, WELL, and “I MEAN” are my biggest offenders.  I don’t even realize I’m using them until someone points it out.  Every time I read through a draft (of anything I’ve written) I will find new examples of these unnecessary words.  A good portion of my editing is taking them out and adjusting sentences to make them sound better without them.  I really don’t know why I use the word “just” so often, but it’s like a big glaring red flag anytime I sit down to edit.  I see it ALL over the MS.

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!

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!

Why I Love Hand-Writing My First Drafts

I don’t hand write everything. But I think I get in a better flow when I’m writing by hand. Mainly because I don’t have the distraction of Facebook or TNBW or Absolute Write or even the dashboard of my blog!

Also, when you write the first draft of something by hand, you get a second shot at the first draft when you type it. For example, I hand wrote part of a chapter of The Death Effect during down time at work the other day. Shhh, don’t tell my boss! (Not that it really matters that much because down time at work is literally seconds in between phone calls and guests checking in and out and stylists needing help with their schedules and the purchase order being checked in, etc. etc. etc. And, my last day is January 9, 2010, so, I think it’s a moot point anyways.) Here’s a few sample sentences that I hand wrote:

They each dropped a rose into the grave. Donny took Geri’s hand and put his other arm around her waist to lead her back to their seats.

Okay those are sooo not exciting. But! When I typed it into my draft I saw how unexciting it was and my inner editor changed it to this:

Her fingers trembled as she loosened her grip on the roses meant to be the last gift to her daughter. The stems rolled out of her hands and tumbled into the grave, a few petals breaking off as the flowers struck the casket. Her husband’s touch replaced the roses as he took her hand and put his arm around her waist to lead her back to their seats.

Still not amazing, but can’t you see the VAST difference! Handwriting is great because it gives you a chance to have 2 first drafts. If I had been typing my first draft, I probably wouldn’t have gone back through and changed that sentence until a couple of months from now, if at all, once I’ve finished the whole book.

I wrote the entire first draft of Twenty-Five by hand and didn’t start typing it until it was 75% complete.  I think that’s how I even finished it in the first place.  It feels more tangible when you can hold the pages in your hand, and it feels more like your work when you see your hand writing expressing the words making up a story.  I feel like I need to stop staring at a computer screen and pick my pen back up if I want to have any shot of finishing another book.