Category Archives: struggling

Writing and Editing is Better with a Deadline

I’ve always been a planner. Since I was a little kid I’ve planned ahead and finished assignments with plenty of time before it’s actually due. Procrastination was a rare occurrence.

That all changed when I started writing novels.

I’ve learned that I am not the best at getting things done without the pressure of a deadline looming over me. My novels have no end date when they need to be completed, and instead of it giving me freedom, it is breeding procrastination. Even when I have the basic plot of a book figured out, I still have days when it’s a struggle to sit down, focus, and write it.

I figured this out when working with my critique group. We meet up every other week and critique about 10 pages of each others’ works. When the email goes out with the week’s submissions, I am instantly opening them and have them read and critiqued that day so it’s ready for later in the week.

Having a deadline and a real-live person waiting for feedback is a great motivator to get me going. I don’t have that for most of my novels unless there’s a critique partner waiting for me to send them my writing, but even then, they’re only going to read it once. I can prep and get it polished up for them, but it’s not like they’re going to ask to see the revisions based on their suggestions later. I would love that, for someone to tell me what to fix so they can see it again, but alas, that’s not the reality.

I’m still trying to find the best way to motivate myself to write on a regular basis. I have a lot written, but my progress varies week to week. I have yet to find the perfect time of day or to-do list or something that keeps me on track. It’s hard to be a self-starter when I’ve spent so much time in school with teachers giving exact assignments and deadlines. Even though I don’t miss school, I do miss having other people holding me accountable so I finish things in a timely manner.

How do you stay motivated and keep your writing goals?

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Filed under Editing, inspiration, struggling, Uncategorized, writing

Why Critique Groups/Partners Matter

Don’t you love it when something finally clicks?

I struggle writing book openings. Most of my novels don’t get “good” until around chapter 6–and that’s a hard sell when you want an agent to read it! However, the more I tinker with the beginning, the more I hate it and it turns into a vicious spiral leading to me wanting to abandon the book. Not a good place to be. So I re-submitted the opening to my critique group.

My group had already read the whole thing, which turned out to be extremely helpful. These people had read both books one and two in the trilogy. Now that we revisited the beginning, they could get into how well/poorly I introduced the characters, and pinpoint why it the beginning dragged on. Basically, I wasn’t foreshadowing enough from the get go. We got into a big discussion about where to hint at information and where I over-explained, leaving no mystery for the reader.

I had my lightbulb, ah-ha, whatever-you-wanna-call-it moment during this discussion. There’s a conversation between the MC and her father about why he doesn’t want her to learn how to ride dragons. His reactions to her frustration and determination were bland and vague. One of my critique partners suggested he hint that if she doesn’t make it as a dragon rider, she will never come back home. This is revealed MUCH later in the books, but bringing it up here I think was a great idea. It hints at the danger of the school while still leaving room for the big WHY when the MC discovers it for herself. I got so excited I actually wanted to start working on this novel again!

It’s easy to get discouraged as a writer looking at your own work. You love it, you hate it, you kinda like it, you love it, then you hate it again. It’s a crippling cycle. I cannot stress how important it is to find people to help you critique your work. I am very fortunate to have found my group on Meetups.com. Talking it through in person (for me) helps get the juices flowing. There are online resources for critiques too if there are no in-person groups in your area.

Finding the right group is a process. You want to find people who are honest, yet not always negative. It helps to have people who can speak candidly, even if it’s hard to hear sometimes, but you don’t need to take every piece of advice. What I find most helpful is when more than one person mentions the same thing–that’s a sign something needs to be changed. Critique groups and partners also help with those “lightbulb” moments because they see things we cannot see for ourselves. If you’re feeling frustrated and discouraged, I hope you reach out and find people to help read your work. Critiquing other people also helps you learn how to edit and can even give you ideas for your own work.

Places I found critique groups/partners:

SCBWI.org: Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. For picture books through YA only.

Meetups.com: Great for a little bit of everything. Try out one or two in your area, and the people there may know of other groups as well.

Friends and Family: Yes, they will be BIASED, but they can be very helpful beta readers for general places in your book that work/don’t work.

You can always do a Google search too to find more specific groups for your genre. Remember: you don’t have to pay to get a good critique. What’s most important is to do your research about the group first to ensure they are in the same boat as you. Hiring a professional editor is another ball game. Swap with other writers first before looking for professional help.

If you have a critique group you trust, please share where you found it!

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Filed under critique, Editing, ideas, inspiration, struggling, Uncategorized, writing

Personalized Rejection Letters

I love it when an agent actually writes you a letter saying why a project didn’t work for them. It’s considerate, sometimes helpful, and more encouraging than a cookie-cutter rejection letter.

It still hurts though.

I’ve been waiting for six weeks to hear from the one agent who liked my #Pitmad tweet in December. This weekend I’ve been gearing up to actually start querying again, and then I opened my email to see her letter. She mentioned my main character by name and that she liked the tone, but the sample chapters were “too expected” and she didn’t feel compelled to read more.

I appreciated the time she took to highlight what she liked about the MS, although in some sense it hurt more when she didn’t want to give it a chance and read beyond chapter 3. Rejection is a huge part of the writing process, but it sucks. I can see why people give up sometimes or lose faith that their book will ever leave their computer. For me, I don’t want to give up writing, but it makes it hard to continue on with the same project. I think, “Maybe this other novel will be better, I should work on that one instead and forget about this one.” It’s true another MS may be stronger, but that doesn’t mean the one I’m querying now isn’t good, but why aren’t agents liking it when my critique groups have enjoyed it, but did the changes I add hurt the story, but what if I haven’t changed enough…ok I’ll stop now.

This whole process keeps me second-guessing everything I’ve put into my novel and now I’m procrastinating querying again, even though I’ve put months of revisions into the MS and re-written the query and synopsis multiple times. There is never “the perfect” time to query, and while the logic part of my brain knows that, the emotional part of my brain is afraid of getting another 50 rejection letters. The timing of this latest (although sweet) rejection letter is not helping.

If anyone has read King’s “On Writing” you will know he had a nail over his bed as a kid where he kept his rejection letters. That hanging reminder helped him move forward. I need to see past the rejections and keep going forward with this book, and then when my other MSs are ready, query them as well. Another book may be published before this one, but for now, I know this one is complete. There is no such thing as a perfect MS (we’ve all read published books we hated or with the occasional bad chapter) so why not keep going?

I’m also hoping if I say this over and over it will make it easier…not sure if it’s working yet!

Today I may not query, but my goal is to send out a couple emails this week. Today I will go through the first 15 pages and triple-check for grammar errors and probably fuss with some wording or something. I’ll review my query and synopsis again and see if I need to fuss with those too.

Keep going, don’t fall off the metaphorical horse, and seek solace in your family, friends, and critique partners.

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Filed under agent search, anxiety, Editing, query, Rejection, second guessing, Set Backs, struggling, Uncategorized, writing

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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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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