Category Archives: struggling

Feeling Discouraged

I’m sure you’ve all seen cartoons like this one before.

Right now, I’m in the fourth stage of this particular cartoon. I’ve been working on the same MG MS for about 2 years–not as long as some projects I know, but still, it’s a long time. It’s the first book in a trilogy, and right now I’m in a place where I feel the second book is better, but the first book is needed, but is the first book working and what do I do about that and what if it never gets published….etc.

All writers go through this and this is not my first rut with a project. The struggle for me right now is that I’ve read this MS so many times I can’t tell what or if anything is “wrong” with it. Every time I re-read it I find a chunk I think is boring or tedious, and I can’t tell if it’s because I’ve been reading my own work for 2 years or because it really is that boring and tedious.

This MS has been through my critique group and a few MS swaps. I’m always open to other people’s ideas and suggestions. If they find the same spots boring and tedious, then perfect, time to cut it out and replace with more action. I’ve also had people tell me what is not working and then I go back and “fix” the issue as best I can. The problem is, I can’t expect my MS swap people to keep re-reading the same book over and over, and I’m not sure I can afford to hire an editor on retainer!

I’m also at the point where I wonder how many MS swaps are too many. I’m swapping with someone after NaNoWriMo season, and I thought about sending them a different MS, but now I’m thinking I need at least one more pair of eyes to either confirm or deny my bleak thoughts about this one I’ve been picking at. I have made changes since my last swap so I know it won’t be a bad idea, now the question is how many more swaps until I feel confident enough to start querying again?

Long story short, ruts are hard. I know I’ll get out of it, it’s just a matter of me deciding when to push forward and get this thing done right or set it aside and work on something new. Come December I’m hoping to have a better sense of what I need to keep writing, whether it’s with this book or another one.

Thank you for reading my rant. We all struggle and I’d love to hear some success stories and positive words for frustrated little writers like me. 🙂

 

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Filed under anxiety, Editing, second guessing, struggling, writing

Secret to the Perfect Query

…don’t you wish there was one?

Here’s what you need to know: there’s no such thing as a perfect anything, especially when it comes to art and writing. The beauty of art is that it’s personal expression, and the downfall of art is that it’s personal expression. As much as you like it, there will always be people who think it can be improved. You put your love, sweat, tears, midnight-coffee-runs, tendonitis-flare-ups, and more into your books to make them as “perfect” as they can be.

Once your books has gone through proper revisions, drafts, and critique groups, you are ready to start the publishing process. This is much harder than it seems. Your lovely, full-length novel must now be compressed into 300 words or less! It sucks, it’s hard, and it’s doable. Remember: as great as your book is, the next task is to get someone to buy it. If you decide to go the agent route, that means a query letter.

A perfect query is the writer’s dream, but what you really need is a query that does its job well. You need an agent to: get hooked into your idea, understand the story, knows the important characters, and know a little about you, the author. Now, while there may not be a “perfect” query, there is a formula YOU MUST FOLLOW. I don’t care how awesome and creative you are, an agent’s job is to sell your book, not be entertained with a new version of a query. Make an agent’s life easier and get the attention your book deserves!

Basic query structure (Whole query is 300 words or less):

  1. Dear (AGENT): Personalized reason why this person will love your book. Keep it brief, always use the agent’s name unless querying an entire agency (which does happen) 1-2 sentences will show them you did your research about the agent/agency and also gets to the good stuff faster!
  2. Paragraphs 1-2: Hook the agent and give a brief summary of the events in your book. Don’t give away major plot points, but don’t be so vague no one knows what your story is about. Think of the back of a book cover you read at the library to figure out if the book interests you or not. Keep this under 200 words.
  3. The genre and word count of your book. Round the word count. Don’t be “that person.” If your book is 58, 432 words, you can say 58,500.
  4. Your Bio: Only put down things RELEVANT TO WRITING. Put down: other publications (magazines, short story contests, book talks, and other novel publications all count.) If you haven’t published, it’s okay to say that versus using unnecessary filler information. If you are write paranormal romance but you’re also an aspiring gardener who loves cross-breeding tomato plants, guess which factoid is worth mentioning? Unless your profession/serious hobby is relevant to your book do not fill space. If you haven’t published, that means your writing bio is: “This is my first novel.” Boom. Done.

(The examples and resources at the end of this blog do a much more in depth version of this)

I have been through countless drafts of my query for a couple years and it’s always changing. I’m lucky to be part of several groups that help with queries and other aspects of writing and critiquing. If you write anything from PB-YA, join the Society for Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators (www.scbwi.org) It’s an invaluable resource.

Seeking help, reading examples, and being open to throwing out what you have and starting over is crazy-making, but all part of the process. Writing a query is one of the hardest things you will have to write, but a good letter with the right balance of hook, summary, intrigue, and characters can get you on the path to publication.

Great sources for guidelines and examples:

Agent Query

Writer’s Digest

Fun Examples

Writer’s Market Books

Agencies: Many literary agencies have examples and guidelines on their websites. Great resource, especially if you want that agency to represent you.

Have you used other resources for writing query letters? Please comment and share!

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Filed under agent search, Editing, query, Rejection, struggling, Uncategorized, word count, writing

To Do Lists

I love lists. I always have. It started when I was a kid creating massive “creative” lists of names for horses with my friend Cece. That then turned to names for creatures/characters in the books I tried to write in middle school, and eventually graduated to normal adult To Do lists including chores, groceries, and not forgetting simple things.

I’ve got several MS projects in the works, and now that most of the writing is “done,” I need to start focusing on other aspects of writing. I need critique partners, MS swaps, query help, agent names, the list goes on and on. Going back to my roots in list making, I made one on a little piece of paper. It was great, some small things to make me feel like I accomplished something (who doesn’t love crossing things off a list?), big picture things to work towards, smaller projects to tinker with to keep the creative juices going. Awesome, right?

Then I lost it.

Sure, it wasn’t hard to remember all those things, but after I lost my list I felt the need to create a new list before I could get anything done. (#Procrastination)

Guess what happened to that list?

Then I decided what I needed to do was simple: get a post-it note app for my laptop. Handwriting is soooo much more satisfying (again, crossing things off is the best adrenaline rush), but my ability to loose things defeated the purpose of having a list.

Honestly, why didn’t I do this weeks ago? When I open my laptop, BAM, the list is staring at me, judging me, telling me to do things. It’s a little thing, but I’ve already crossed something off this morning. If it works, go right ahead and do it, no matter how simple or silly you think it is.

What is on your list?

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Filed under struggling, to do, Uncategorized, writing

Fear of Critique

I was raised as an only child, and that combined with being the youngest grandchild in the family makes me sometimes want attention! Because of this I’m usually too eager to share my works in progress (WIP) with others. I enjoy being critiqued because a lot of the time there are large sections that people enjoy, and it makes me happy to hear that. (What writer doesn’t get all warm and fuzzy when someone likes their writing?) I’ve gotten better at being “selfish” with my WIP and waiting until I’m totally in love with the project before I open it up to my family or my critique group. However, for the first time in a long time, I’m nervous about critique.

I’m proud of this YA project, but for once I’m hesitant to get critique. I want this book to do well, and while I’m excited about my concept, I am battling with a lingering fear of rejection. I’ve been trying to get one of my MG books published and I’ve taken a break because of the rejections. Now that I have another WIP I think can succeed, I’m nervous others won’t feel the same way.

What if the drama feels forced?

What if my characters are not believable?

What if people like the concept but hate the writing?

What if…AHH!

Writing, like all art, takes courage. It’s risky letting others read your work, regardless if it’s family or a stranger I met on SCBWI. Family may be kind, but the people I let read my WIP are honest despite their bias. I can take critique, all of my novels have gone through MASSIVE overhauls because of the advice given by different people. The books always turn out better than they started. There will always be people who don’t like the book and that’s okay, but if everyone I show the book to sees that it’s not working then what do I do? For once, I’m having a hard time (as Stephen King so eloquently wrote) “murdering my darlings.”

In a few weeks I will have to let the outside world in. The MS has gone through 3 drafts, is likely as complete as I can make it on my own, and needs some other eyes on it. For now I’m still tinkering in case I catch a big problem before someone else does. I’m sharing this MS at the end of the month with my aunt who is also a writer, reader, and artist herself. I look forward to her critique, reminding myself that all my MSs are better after others read them…although a big part of me still wants to hold my darling close!

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Filed under anxiety, Editing, on writing, Rejection, second guessing, struggling, Uncategorized, writing

Focusing on Editin–SQUIRREL!

So I’ve let my most recently finished draft sit, untouched, for 8 weeks. I know King said to let it sit for 3 months, but I feel it’s been enough time to kind of “forget” the MS and come back to it fresh. However, I’m having a lot of trouble with the next step.

King’s ideal theory is to sit and read the whole MS in one sitting and make no corrections, unless they are minute grammar ones. I am finding this impossible. Once I focus, I feel I do get a lot done. However, I cannot just sit and read this MS. Yesterday I spent a couple hours reading AND editing about 1/3 of the MS. In the moment, it feels good to make these corrections and additions, especially since this MS is on the short side, even for YA. Yet it is frustrating when I cannot let go of old habits and try a new technique.

I understand why King says to just read the darn thing and not touch it. I’ve never read the MS as a whole. I’ve worked at it as we all do, in writing or editing small chapters at a time.  While I am spending time with the whole project, it’s difficult for me to sit back and read it like an actual book and not a work in progress. I may be able to do this once it’s closer to a final draft, yet even then I know I will keep fussing and touching it up.

I know a part of this “issue” is habit. I’m used to having a limit time frame to write, (30-90 minutes during nap time when nannying) and I’m also used to reading and editing other people’s works in my critique group. The majority of my experience is fixing and writing in short spurts, and I my lack of attention span is painfully clear. Even on days, like today, when I am not at work I’m having trouble focusing on the project at hand.

All people are different and have methods of writing and editing that work. I’m not saying this method is horrible and awful and shouldn’t be done, I just think I need practice and help with improving my focus for times like these when I do have a whole day to focus on a MS. Procrastination is real, and the internet is NOT helpful. (I’m even writing this blog when I should be reading my MS.)

For those of you both old and new to writing, what are some techniques you use to battle against procrastination and improve your focus to the craft? I know many of us struggle with this, so advice and techniques that work are always welcome ideas to consider!

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Filed under Editing, ideas, on writing, questions, struggling, Uncategorized, writing

Anxiety and Art

The past 6 weeks I have been looking for a new job. My current position ended unexpectedly, but my employers did give me plenty of time to search for a new position. However, finding time to write with the mental turmoil of job-loss and job-searching has been difficult.

There is a huge trend/stigma/insert-favorite-term-here that the suffering artist produces the best work. For me, the “suffering” writer is a basket case who can’t focus on reading a PB, never mind writing a novel. For me, my anxiety made it much harder to connect with my stories and characters. Even the characters in my depressed, emotional YA novel I avoided. Writing sad made me sad, and writing happy was impossible since I couldn’t find it myself.

My writing hiatus made me recognize that my anxiety was out of control, and I did find help. I’m not afraid or ashamed to say I have a therapist and I went back on my anti-anxiety medication. Many of my friends who are literary/visual/musical artists also struggle with mental illness and have found relief in reaching out. Asking for help doesn’t mean I was suicidal or crazy or so depressed I couldn’t move. For me, my meds help me deal with day-to-day anxiety and make working and enjoying my life easier. It’s like wearing glasses. Sure, I could wander around squinting, never drive, and be unable to read things farther than 2 feet away, but why would I do that if there’s a better solution?

This blog is turning into a plug for mental health awareness and I’m totally okay with that. As artists, we all function on different levels of anxiety and stress. Some stress is important. It keeps us working to make deadlines and push ourselves to be better writers/musicians/visual artists. However, if stress and anxiety is prohibiting you from making good art, something is wrong. For me, I do not know if I will be on my meds for the long-term (side effects are real and annoying and affect day-to-day life) but for this transition it has helped. I’m sleeping and eating again, and I’m writing. I’m still stressed because looking for work isn’t fun no matter who you are, but even if I’m editing a couple chapters a day it’s more than avoiding it all together.

Taking a break is valid and healthy for those of us who have been working a lot and need to not think for a while. Listen to yourself. It’s okay to ask for help from friends, family, doctors, and professionals. Artists don’t need to struggle to make beautiful, meaningful, important art. We can be happy. We should be happy.

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