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Well, I certainly didn’t mean to leave the blog dormant for so long, but I swear I have a good excuse.

I have signed up for the Writers’ League of Texas 2012 Agents Conference on June 22-24.  I’m super excited for the seminars at the conference, particularly for the optional YA track that I added on.  Friends who have attended previous Agents Conferences have how much they learned.  Two have called it life-changing.  I’m also looking forward to networking with other writers from the state and region, not to mention the instructors, editors, and agents that are also attending.

But I’m most excited about my 10-minute pitch to an agent.

In person.

Like, face-to-face.  Me telling the agent about my book.

It’s exciting and scary all at the same time.  I’m booked with an agent who seems super nice and is very successful, and whose blog and twitter have been both entertaining and inspirational.  So I could not be more thrilled to have an opportunity to present to her.

This means that I’ve been revising like crazy.  I can’t pitch an incomplete book (and no matter that this book has a coherent beginning, middle, and end… until it’s a final draft, it’s not finished) without feeling like a fraud.  And if she likes my pitch and requests pages or a full, I can’t send her something that doesn’t represent my best work.  That’s a surefire way to the “no thanks” pile.

It’s been a rough couple of months.  I’ve spent a lot of time in front of the laptopMy friends Rozie and Kristen and I have formed a small writing group and have been meeting regularly to work on our books, which has helped beyond measure.

(quick aside: their novels are still in outline form but are meticulously researched and they are already so exciting, I can barely stand it!)

Last month, I took a three-week class meant to help develop a novel’s concept and help it stand out in the slush pile.  Though our actual work was not read or discussed, we shared elevator pitches and outlines.  I’ll admit that mine drew some pretty strong criticism from the instructor and classmates.  It stung.  But after talking it through with my writing group and ruminating on the feedback, I realized that the instructor and class had some valid points.

So I tossed the first three chapters of my book.

This was a hard step, y’all.  I had already revised them, but many of my original words were there.  The first words I wrote as an aspiring author.  Acknowledging that they weren’t my best work was rough.  It hurt to move these scenes to the discard pile.

But what I’ve written in their stead is so. much. better.

And I’ve cut a lot more.  I’ve changed from past tense to present tense, re-imagined characters, and rearranged the timeline.  The current draft is, in many ways, unrecognizable from the first draft from 2008.  It’s gone from being a light, fluffy romance to something more of a coming-of-age story, complete with conflict and tension and choices.  My characters make mistakes and get hurt.  The writing is tighter and more vibrant.

You guys, my discard folder has 24,000 orphaned words.

The first draft had only 50,000 words.  I’ve cut nearly half a book.

Right now I’m sitting at about 63,000 words and will probably land somewhere around 65,000 with the final draft.  That’s a-ok with me.  There is still more work to do, and time is beginning to run short.  But I’m determined, and I have a good support system in place both locally and online to keep me from jumping off a cliff when things get frustrating. By the time my agent pitch appointment rolls around on June 23, I’ll have a finished product, a summary, a query, and a pitch.  I’ll be able to talk coherently about my work.  I will get out of the pitch without a nervous breakdown.  I’ve got this, right?  Right.

And I ordered business cards.  They say I’m a writer.  Time to fulfill that dream.

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Want to discuss your favorite young adult books?  Learn about current publishing trends?  See me looking all nervous and awkward in person?  If you’re in the Dallas area on March 25th, you’re in luck!

The ABCs of YA, Sunday, March 25 2012, 1 PM   Lucky Dog Books  10801 Garland Road, Dallas 75218

Behold my graphic design skillz.

Come to the Writer’s Garret and talk YA with Kristen Dickson and me in a free Writers’ Block about YA.

Click here for all the details.  From the Garret’s website:

Join various members of The Writer’s Garret community for an open discussion of one of the most vibrant genres in publishing today: Young Adult Fiction. Learn about publishing trends, gender and race issues, censorship, and writing for teens and twenty-somethings. We will save time to discuss your favorite books: from contemporary romances, to urban dystopias… and even vampires, werewolves, and magicians.

So, if you’re in the area on Sunday the 25th, we would love for you to join our discussion.  Please don’t make us stand there with no audience.  That would be super awkward indeed.

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…and that makes you follow through with it?

Well, that.

My life is littered with half-finished projects.  Scarves that are partially crocheted, needlework still on the hoop, a library only halfway cataloged, diet plans abandoned.  And then there are my novels, the things I’ve sweated blood over, that are all in a perpetual state of work-in-progress or still-editing or please-don’t-ask-me,-I’m-too-ashamed-to-say-I-haven’t-worked-on-it.

As part of my non-resolution to “be a better person” this year, I’m setting goals for myself as a writer, hoping that they will help me think positively and stay on track.  Too often, I get off track and then beat myself up over it.  No more of that, says New 2012 Me.

To that end, here are my three major projects and the goals I’m setting:

YA Novel 1: My contemporary YA novel (2008) and its unfinished sequel (2009), which are now being combined into one book.  The first book has been transferred into Scrivener, and I’ve been tinkering with it on and off for several years.  I got discouraged with the rewriting process, probably because I didn’t really know what I was doing, and so I didn’t work on it as diligently as I should.  Then, several months ago, I had a small epiphany about the timeline of the story and decided to incorporate major plot points from the sequel into the first book.  This change will up the stakes and tension, and I think it puts the novel firmly in the coming-of-age category.  I’m in the process of importing those sections into Scrivener and rearranging the outline.  That project was put on hold while I wrote my adult novel, but I’m now very anxious to see how it looks when it’s all put together.
New draft into readers’ hands: January 31, 2012
Query-able draft ready: April 1, 2012

(And you know what?  If it turns out that I still can’t get a query-ready draft out of this thing, I’ll put it in a freaking drawer.)

Adult Novel 1: My most recently finished work from NaNoWriMo 2011.  Right now, the rough draft is in the hands of four readers.  I’ve received feedback from one so far (thanks Kristen!), and it was very positive.  I know I have a lot of work to do fleshing the book out, but my reader thinks it’s got great commercial potential.  I agree with her (by the way, positive thinking is one of my goals for this year!).  I haven’t begun rewriting in earnest yet, but I am ruminating a lot on what I’d like to add while the feedback rolls in.
New draft into readers’ hands:  February 29, 2012
Query-able draft ready: June 1, 2012


YA Novel 2: My semi-paranormal contemporary YA novel, begun in 2010 and currently on hiatus.  I still really love this concept, but I am determined to finish decent drafts of my other two books before diving into this one again.  My goal is to start work on it again mid-year.
First draft into readers’ hands: December 31, 2012
Query-able draft ready: TBA

I don’t know whether these goals are too ambitious, not ambitious enough, or what.  I’m still very much a novice when it comes to these kinds of things.  I don’t want to send a complete load of crap to agents, but I also don’t want my manuscripts to languish on my computer for years and years while I debate whether to change a sentence or not.

The other reason I’m setting these goals is that I want to be ready for the Writers’ League of Texas Agents Conference at the end of June.  I’m determined to go this year, and I’ll have pitches and samples and business cards and everything.  Until then, I’m focusing on networking and learning as much as possible about agents and publishing options.  I’ll be attending book clubs and meet-ups and write-ins.   I’ll even be presenting a moderated talk about YA Fiction through my writing program.  More on that to come, when the details are ironed out.

Sticking to these deadlines will be hard.  There are any number of roadblocks in my path.  I have a full-time job, a husband, friends and family, and other hobbies.  I’m also a pathological procrastinator (is that a thing?  I think it’s a thing).  Like many other writers, I suffer from anxiety and depression (mild, thank God), and while it’s getting better, it’s never really gone.  My roadblocks are certainly not unique, but they are mine.

But like so many of the writers I admire, I will push past those hurdles.  When I fall, I’ll pick myself up and limp along with a bloody knee until the next obstacle in my path.

And please, in a few days or weeks or months, ask me how my book is coming along.  I promise not to bite.*

*much

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nanowrimo

Yeah!!

So, I finished.  Just barely.  I started out so strongly, but I was derailed by a few things:

1. Laziness.  Or procrastination.  Whatever you want to call it.  But yeah, that thing.
2. Violent disgusting upper respiratory infection of death.  I believe that is the actual medical term for it. Cue the steroid shot, z-pack, and hydrocodone-laced cough syrup.
3. Death in the family.  Even though it was expected, losing my grandmother was pretty awful.
4. Trip to Paris!  Straight from the funeral, still sick with the upper respiratory infection, I spent Thanksgiving in Paris!  Who wants to write when you have a lovely apartment, delicious food, wine for days, and you can curl up on the couch with your husband and watch music videos (sometimes in French!)?

So anyway, that made for a lot of last-minute typing and truly awful writing.  I’m not even calling this a first draft, because it’s really just the skeleton of a zero draft.  All bones and a little muscle but no real meat or fat.  But it’s a complete story, beginning-middle-end and everything.

I guess that’s not a bad thing, right?  That’s what NaNoWriMo is about, for me at least.  Force yourself to write.  Get words on the page.  Go back and fix later.

But I would have been a lot happier if I hadn’t waited until the last four days to write OVER HALF THE BOOK.

Some observations from my process and the finished (ha ha!) product:

I need to work on the characters.  Right now, the four main characters are somewhat loosely-defined.  They have backstories and jobs and wants and pressures, but they all. sound. exactly. the. same.  When they talk, I mean.  I need to give them their own voices, and I need their personalities to shine a bit more.  Or a lot more.

I had a hard time at first with my narrator, Bea.  I just could not get into her head at all.  It got easier as it went on, especially as she grew and changed.  The other three main characters (the love interest, the best friend, the cousin) are all new favorites of mine.  I had a lot of fun writing them.  I just need to spend more time with them, I think.

Secondary characters?  Oh, they’re all pretty one-note right now.  They need depth and nuance and I just need to sit down and think about them.  The book is set in a small town, where everyone knows everyone, so you know there are kooky characters and crazy backstories just waiting to pop out of the woodwork.  But I don’t want it to get all Gilmore Girls, right?  One can only take so many characters.

First person point of view means inner monologue.  Yeah.  I kind of forgot all about that.  And it’s one of the reasons I love some of my favorite books.  So, must fix this.

Description, description, description.  I kept forgetting to use my senses.  There are huge chunks of mostly-just-dialogue and one sentence paragraphs.  We go on an amazing hike with the characters through the Ozark National Forest, and I’m all “the mountains were beautiful.”  Really?  That’s what I came up with?  Beautiful mountains?  Break out the thesaurus!  Read some poetry!  Go on the damn hike yourself, and write down what you see!  I need to utilize the part of Scrivener where you write about settings… maybe that would help. 

I’ve written before that I’m just not very good at this sort of thing.  Must get better.

Writing a book for adults is fun (sorta!).
  Sex scenes and cursing!  And work schedules!  Wait, what?  Yeah.  While I got to let loose a little with the content, I had a host of new things to worry about.  How is Bea paying her mortgage?  Who’s watching the shop while she’s off fighting battles with her ex-fiance’s wife?  What’s Parker’s work schedule anyway – he always seems to be hanging around the bookstore, so when is he actually earning money?  Did we remember to feed the dog and let her pee?  Can a hipster farmer actually make a living with an organic vegetable stand?  Do I understand any of the legal issues I bring up in the book?

And does any of that actually matter?  How important is that type of realism to this book?

Location scouting time!
  I need to spend a weekend in the little town that my fictional town is based upon.  That will help with everything, I think.  The town is almost a character itself, and even though I come from the backwoods, I’ve been in the big city for so long that I need to revisit small town life.  It’s geographically very un-similar to Dallas, too, and I think I need to reacquaint myself with that type of topography.

It’s very close to my parents’ house, so perhaps I can sneak in a little trip over Christmas.  Otherwise, though, I think this calls for a weekend away.  A cozy, relaxing, refreshing weekend away.

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It’s time for another YA Highway Road Trip Wednesday.  I’m going to try to participate in them as much as possible from now on, because it gives me a good reason to update this poor, neglected blog.

This week’s topic:

What are your writing and publishing superpowers (drafting? beta-reading? writing queries? plotting? character creation? etc.) — and what’s your kryptonite?

Road Trip Song of the Week: “The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts” – Sufjan Stevens

Quick confession before we get started… and if you know me in real life, you know this already:  I’m not very self-confident.  As a writer, as a person, as a girl, as anything, really.  I’m just not programmed that way.  But, I’m going to force myself to talk positively here, because I am good at some things.

  • Dialogue  I can write dialogue like a champ.  For days.  It’s a little ridiculous.  I’m chalking it up to the fact that I was a theater major, and I’ve been involved in theater stuff for about half my life.  Plays are all about dialogue.  I mean, that’s almost all there is in a play script.  The only writing class I took while in college was playwriting, and we focused a lot on dialogue.  Often, when I’m working on a first draft (or zero draft, really), if I’m stuck, I’ll just write dialogue with minimal description.  I’ll come back later and fill in.
  • Grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.  Hey, Vampire Weekend!  You know who gives a f**k about an Oxford comma?  This girl!  I’m pretty confident about the rules when I write, and I’m an ace line editor.  I can wield a semicolon with style and grace.  And while I always have a copy of The Elements of Style nearby, I also know when it’s okay to break the rules.  And I do break them.  See what I just did there?
  • Beta reading  I will give you honest feedback with constructive criticism.
  • Mushy scenes  I’m a sucker for romance, and I think I can write the sugary stuff pretty well.

Now, what am I not so good at?  Oh, there’s a litany of things:

  • Adverbs, and the overuse thereof  I didn’t even know this was a thing until it was pointed out in a Writer’s Garret class.  I should be banned from using “really” or “pretty” or, well, almost every other adverb.
  • Description  Remember how I said I can write dialogue?  Well, I’m not so hot at writing the rest of the damn words.
  • Conflict  Maybe it’s because I try to avoid it so much in real life.  I dunno.  I am just terrible at conflict.  I can’t seem to make stakes high enough.  I resolve it too quickly.  I run toward a happily-ever-after like my life depends on it.  Now, in my current NaNoWriMo project, I concentrated on making sure there is enough conflict in the plot.  Unfortunately, that makes it feel icky to write sometimes, because conflict makes me uncomfortable.  Can’t we just write novels where people fall in love and feel better about themselves???  Oh right, no one would read that.
  • Re-writing, editing, draft #4248, etc.  I find this very tedious, and I give up easily.  I’m just not a finisher (I’m no Bald John Green, folks).

So, that’s that.  One last thing about Road Trip Wednesday: I freaking love me some Sufjan Stevens.  The title of this post is from one of his songs (“The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!).  He’s on my List (you know, the “it’s okay to cheat with these five celebrities” list).  I may have made a super silly Pinterest board with my current List-dwellers.

So, speaking of my NaNoWriMo novel, I’m up to 10,546 words.  That was great on Sunday, when I hit that word count and was a tiny bit ahead of the pace.  But I haven’t written anything since then.  I started a new job on Monday (again!  Let’s hope this one sticks!), and I’ve been a little exhausted the past couple of nights.  I’m going to get back in the saddle tonight and will write at least 2,000 words a day until I get back on pace.  And I may have skipped some of the conflict-y scenes to write a mushy scene, because, well, see above.

I’m having trouble getting into my main character’s head.  She’s different from me, and I’m not used to writing that.  Specifically, she’s kind of given up on love, and I never did, even when I was single for years (LITERALLY YEARS, people, in my 20s. Oh, and in my teens).  It’s been hard getting into that mindset.  I’ll crack her, though.  I have faith that I’ll be able to do it.

Some shout-outs to friends that are also writing NaNoWriMo novels:

  • Diana, who doesn’t have a website but has been writing with me online and commiserating over the phone
  • Kristen, who seriously needs to update her blog and come have a write-in at my house
  • Tiffany, who has been writing with me online and cheerleading on Facebook and Twitter
  • Brandy, also cheerleading on Facebook and Twitter, plus I think we’ve written together online this month… right?
  • Melissa, who is going to start her novel any day now…
  • And I’ll add in Jen, who is working on a different project but has been cheerleading and writing with me online.

It’s so good to know other writers.  All of the NaNoWriMo participants that I know are struggling right along with me, and I’m glad to know I’m in good company.  Keep going, ladies!  We can do this!

(By the way, I may think outrageously, but I don’t write in cursive when I’m writing books.  It’s laptop all the way for me.  How do you write?)

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Today, I’m participating in YA Highway’s Road Trip Wednesday, which is specifically geared toward WriMos this week (btw, I’m over 2,600 words already!).

What kind of writing coach do you need? When you have to coach friends, what kind of coach are you?

I need someone to make me sit down and write. Someone who won’t distract me, as I am so easily distractible. Someone who will tell me to keep writing even if I think it sucks.

What I don’t need, interestingly enough, is someone who thinks what I write is amazing. Rather than make me feel good, this somehow undermines my confidence. I’m just weird that way, I guess. I need a “It’s decent, good job getting those words on the paper, keep going and fix it later!”

For the record, I also don’t need someone to tell me my work is crap.

Luckily, I have writer friends that I write with online and in person that understand what I need.

So I guess that’s the kind of coach I try to be. Cheerleader in the “don’t give up, you can do it” kind of way. So, those of you who are struggling through NaNoWriMo, or working on ongoing projects, you can do it! (said in best Rob Schneider voice).

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Buckle your seatbelts.

NaNoWriMoIt’s that time of year again!  The day before I panic for thirty days straight.

Yes, even though I have a bunch of editing and rewriting to do on other projects, I’m going to drop everything and start something new.  I’m actually quite excited about this new project.  It’s my first time writing a novel for adults.  I read a lot of those, but I’ve never tried writing them.

Once I was strong-armed into participating last week, I spent some time brainstorming an idea.  Once I got started, the story took shape almost magically.  Characters, settings, plot… it all just came rolling in.  Even conflict, which is my stumbling block in so many projects, came easily for this story.  Does that mean I’m a genius or is this just derivative crap that I’ll be writing?  Only time will tell.

Anyway, I’m not going to share the synopsis with you just yet.  But here are a few elements that will be included:

  • Organic farming
  • A haunted hotel
  • A creaky old bookstore
  • Poetry
  • Two hot guys that are not conventionally hot (of course)
  • Baking, quilting, and crocheting
  • A lazy corgi (pretty sure it’s a Pembroke vs. a Cardigan, but I haven’t decided for sure)
  • A nursing home
  • A vindictive stay-at-home-mom

So, this is going to be fun to write.  I’ve outlined the entire book in Scrivener already, and I’ve completed character sketches on all of the major players.  I have reimagined a small town based upon one near where I grew up in Arkansas.  Almost all of my locations and businesses have names now.  I’ve been doing a lot of research too.  Like Googling “hipster farmer.”

Hipster farmer

Not exactly what I was looking for...

So anyway, I’m very excited to get started on this.  I’m sure it’s going to be a bumpy ride!  Sorry in advance if I’m cranky and look like death the over the next month.  That’s what being a writer is all about, right?  Right???

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