Monday, August 31, 2009

Do Not Skip Ahead

I've been having a little trouble lately reining myself in. I finished a first draft recently and there's a huge part of me that just wants to query the heck out of it, even though it's nowhere near ready for submission. I know better, and I will restrain myself, but every time a "perfect" opportunity shows up on my radar, I have to talk myself down.

A few weeks ago, one of my favorite agents opened back up for submissions on a very limited basis. And she's asking for Urban Fantasy.

And then I saw mention of a contest that looks oh so very cool.

New agents with an interest in my genre are popping up left and right.

And urban fantasy is on the rise.

Look hard enough, and "perfect" opportunities will just jump out of the woodwork at you.

Except that they're not "perfect", because my manuscript is not done. As I have to remind myself every single time I see one of these tempting blog posts or tweets or news articles, trying to query right now would be bad for me.

Why? Well, there are many, many reasons. And don't worry. I'm going to list my favorites here! (Admit it; you were worried I was just going to say that and run, weren't you? Okay, maybe you weren't, but I'm going to list them anyway.)

  • Agents and editors say it all the time. "Do not query your novel before it is finished!" I literally see someone tweet or blog about this at least once a day. Sometimes as often as ten or twelve times a day. With so many "unspoken rules" and "unseen observers" in publishing, breaking a rule that all the gatekeepers are shouting at the top of their internet lungs on a daily basis just seems like a bad idea.
  • I know, in the logical side of my brain, that my WIP isn't ready to be seen by anyone outside my critique group yet. So why would I send out a query that would just make me afraid that someone might request the manuscript? What would be my plan really? I query, and then when I get the request, I scramble and try to force myself through the revisions in the amount of time I could reasonably pass between receiving the request for a full and sending it? In today's instant gratification, technology on demand world, how much time is that really? It's not like I have the US Postal Service to blame for a delay if the agent asks me to email them the file. How much time would I really be able to buy myself then? A few hours? A day? A weekend? Not enough, no matter what kind of excuse I came up with.
  • Let's say, for the sake of argument, that I did manage to buy myself a few weeks so I could crash through the revisions process. It can be done. I've seen it done recently to marvelous success. Some people are capable of that kind of thing. I envy those people, because I am not. I know it would show in the manuscript I sent out, and then, when I got the inevitable rejection, I would always feel like I blew a great opportunity. Sure, I could revise it and requery, but I think agents and editors are probably inclined to look even more critically at a second submission. Why raise the bar for myself needlessly?
  • In business, they say "dress for the job you want". As an unpublished novelist, I don't want to put anything less than my absolute best work in front of industry professionals. I'm sure, as a newbie, I'll still make a ton of rookie mistakes. Adding an extra one that I know about just seems silly.
But knowing all of that doesn't stop me dreaming. It doesn't stop me seeing a "perfect" opportunity arise and saying to myself "Oh, if only my novel was finished, I know that would be just right for me. . . Well, they only need a query letter and the first five pages to start with. My first five pages are pretty good. Maybe I could just submit and then revise like mad crazy, just in case I make it to the next round?"

No! Stop! Do not pass Go; do not collect $200 in imagined royalties. It can be hard sometimes, letting a "perfect" opportunity pass you by, but that's the name of the game. When the manuscript is ready, there will be other opportunities out there for me, opportunities that really are perfect. Until then, though, I just have to keep restraining myself, reminding myself.

Do not skip ahead.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Creative Nurturing

There's some stuff in the office fridge that has reached the "Do Not Feed After Midnight" and "Do Not Get Wet" stage. You know the species. The kind that turns green, sprouts arms, yells "Feed me, Seymour!", and shrinks away from the tiny yellow bulb in the upper right corner. The kind that runs and hides on trash day. Every trash day. For a year.

If you love writing, or painting, or singing, or whatever art form calls to you and you're not out there, doing it, as often as possible, you'd better prepare for the aforementioned monster. This beast lays the guilt on thick, ruining your art-free day, accidentally trampling on your self-esteem with its raging. You think, "I'm not cut out for this; I'm never going to be an artist, so I should just give up!" and the nudge persists, changing from gentle urging in clear, plaintive tones to insistent, constant nagging. And raging! Oh the raging...Stifling headache? Let the creativity free!

You give in.

The muse-turned-uncouth-monster can react in many ways.

1. The Binge. A tumultuous session of art-binging is satisfying but unsustainable. This practice creates a vicious cycle. You will be blissful on the days you give yourself up to the art - and yelling at yourself for the rest of them. Pace yourself.

2. The Dance. This is the not-quite-what-I-want sequence of steps. You prance around what you really want to do with everything and anything but that to which you must eventually succumb. Avoid the inevitable. Don't let your muse samba alone.

3. The Chair. Like a pro-wrestling smackdown, a man's soap opera, you take the ring and assail yourself with a round of hurt - berating yourself for ever wanting to give art the time of day. Ever. Beating it with the folding chair, into submission, until it's quieter than a mouse nomming on the ceiling tiles and attic insulation. And just like in wrestling - that move will come back to bite you.

4. The Pretender. You decide (*snort* You decide? Your muse totally decided for you, silly human...) that you're going to give art another chance. Your muse believes you as you sit down to work and promptly stuff her in a pretty genie bottle, mosaic glass. You quickly reverse your position and abandon the art in Perfect Storm splendor. That bottle won't hold the muse-monster for long. Whiplash hurts. Brain whiplash is twice as bad.

5. The Leaf-On-The-Wind. You display a rare patience with that creative creature that threatens to eat the right half of your brain. Repetition, contemplation, dabbling in the medium of your choice - your real desire - calms the storm between your ears. You recognize peace, but soon allow yourself to be swept away by some newfangled thing that promises you even more happiness. Don't listen to the anti-creativity temptress. The crash landing can be disastrous. Muses can't die. Not really, not forever. But they can take an inordinate amount of time to recover - and it itches.

I am and have been guilty of each and every one of these offenses against the muse, but I am lucky enough to be once again back on track with music and writing to fuel my journey. (And also a brain. Brains are vital to this process.)

Daily cultivating of your imagination garden, your art song, is the only way to sooth the agony of artlessness. Creative nurturing tames the soul.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Break a Rule

The ubiquitous they like to comment on the way things should be done. These armchair humans try to tell the world how to run itself according to the they philosophy. For example, they say, "never run with scissors." I say what if you have to cut someone's hair that got stuck in the ceiling fan and that person is getting really dizzy and might hurl at any moment? I say run with the dang scissors. They say, "don't chew with your mouth open." I say, how's anybody going to see your purple tongue after you eat a grape jolly rancher if you don't? They say, "never pet a burning dog." Okay, well, maybe I can go with that one. Don't start petting, grab the garden hose first. The point is, there are exceptions to every rule. Come to think of it, I think they say that one, too.

They also have a lot to say about writing. "Don't let your characters think too much." "Make sure every word advances the plot in some way." "Never begin your story with characters waking up in the morning." "Never make the romantic male lead a pimply red head." The thing about all the they philosophy is that as a general rule, they are right. A lot of the they statements about writing are good things to know. But some rules were meant to be broken. There they go again.

I say let your characters think for a change. It's not often that people do that particular activity, so it might be refreshing. Let some of your words be there just because they are beautiful, whether they do anything or not. Wake your characters up with a tsunami wave in the middle of the night on page three and see what happens. Let that red head get the girl. She'll buy him Clearasil anyway, and everyone will live happily ever after.

I say, go ahead, break a rule.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Goads and Goals

Right then, I'm here writing a post when I should be doing my daily writing exercise. It's a procrasteling, but sort of a necessary one. When I get published, it would be a good thing were I to have an established web presence: le voici.

November is slowly getting closer to rising on the horizon, and it is an extra piece of dried pine to the hearth that is my writing. Currently the flame is sleeping, occasionally turning over and giving everyone a start, then calming back down, disappearing into the coals of my mind.

One of these days, if I don't punk out, the fire will get used to being fed, and will be crackling more than sporadically. Until then, having NaNoWriMo is a good way of keeping me alive, so to speak.

Which is another reason for the daily writing exercise: How am I supposed to pop back into the actuality of writing 1800 words a day if I'm currently averaging 100 (yes, I''m being generous)?

Fellow followers of the craft, let us continue on! Using whatever tools motivate us in changing intangible thoughts into visible words. :)

Monday, August 17, 2009

There's No Crying In Baseball

Some of aspiring novelists have very lofty goals for their writing. They seek to be international bestsellers, crafting works of fiction that the whole world will read and recognize, that will integrate into pop culture and be remembered for centuries to come.

If those are your goals, that's fine. To each his own. (Cicero. Now there are some words that endured for centuries. Twenty of them.) Those are not my goals though. I mean, don't get me wrong. If one of my novels ends up that way, I'm not going to say no. It's just not where I see myself going.

Truthfully, at this point I would be psyched to have a real publishing house offer me just about anything to publish one of my novels. Just having my words go into print and show up on the shelf at the bookstore would be amazing.

In the end, I think my goal is to be midlist. To make enough from my writing that I can support it but not enough that people sit in their living rooms with their critique groups and bitch about how crap my work is. (Not that I've ever done that. . . *innocent whistle*)

But beyond the money or the publishing, I will now confess something that has long been one of my most desperate goals: I want to make someone cry.

Yes. I just said that. I want to make someone cry.

I am one of those people who is very susceptible to the emotive content of a story. I have been known to sob at the movies. To blubber at the end of books. I have even teared up while listening to the radio. That last one is dangerous while driving. I don't recommend it.

And I want to be able to do that to someone else. I want my writing to draw them so far into the story, to make them care and invest so much of themselves in the character, that when something sad happens, they really feel it. And they weep. Maybe they don't bawl like a baby, because they're not like that. But they get misty-eyed and possibly there's a sniffle. That would be awesome.

Ladies and gentlemen, mission accomplished! The other day, a fellow member of the TriMu (who I will not name here; she can out herself if she wants to, but I don't want to embarrass her, in case she never reads for me again) read the first draft of my latest project and called me to tell me she cried at the end.

Victory is mine! (Points to whoever comments the origins of that one first)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Schizophrenic Characters and Other Nonsense

To paraphrase the rest of the Tri Mu. “Schizophrenia is not a flaw you should cultivate in your characters.”

Unfortunately, I did this in my current WIP.

In truth, Austin (the name of my hero) didn’t have schizophrenia so much as he had bipolar disorder. In five pages, he went from morbidly depressed to confidently flirty. Hmmmm….No logical jump in between the two either.

Writing is hard. Writing characters with a consistent and believable personality is even harder. As writers, we have people living in our heads (or chickens as the case may be). We know these people. They may or may not talk to us, but we know them. We know their age, their favorite colors, what they like to eat and what they would rather not eat. Some of us have spent years building a world for them to reside.

If I told most of my non-writing friends and family what happens inside my head, they would stage an intervention.

But we know our characters almost as well as we know ourselves. We know who we want them to be and who they have been in the past. So sometimes we know them better than we know ourselves. Prior to editing my first draft, I knew Austin and I loved him. He was flirty and genial. The perfect foil to my sarcastic and slightly depressed heroine.

But somewhere along the line I decided that I had fallen into the perfect hero trap. That he was too perfect to actually exist and that if I were ever going to sell my novel, Austin needed flaws. So I gave him one. A fiancĂ© that died in a tragic accident that he caused. I amped up the guilt and the depression. It was great and I loved the scene. But then, I had to get the heroine and the hero together on the same page and well, it didn’t work.

Flashes of Austin as I knew him before kept coming through onto the page and by the second time I wrote from his perspective, I’d lost the guilt and depression over the dead fiancĂ©.

I knew that I had problems so I let the Tri Mu read what I had completed and even, they agreed that Austin had a mental stability issue. (Thus, the quote at the beginning of this post.)

Characters don’t like it when writers tell them what to do. In this situation, I tried to tell Austin to be depressed and guilty. He disagreed. Non-writers say “You’re the writer. You get to tell the characters how to behave.” Maybe other writers can do this. I can’t. I guess that I’m a character driven writer. I don’t create the character to suit the plot. I create the plot to suit the character. I will have to accept this about myself.

I’ve decided to resort back to my original Austin. He’s happier now that I’ve decided to do this and the words are coming to the page again. And he’s not perfect. He never was, but don’t tell him I said that.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Pot on the Fire

Hi again! Vert here.

I was wondering what to write about this week, and Vikki brought the mule to mind. She was asking about revisions and updates on the process, which made me consider where I was, writing-wise, in the first place.

I find myself, these days, thinking more about what I want to do with the writing. Do I want to put more organized time into it? Do I want to shelve it completely for the next couple years and come back when I have more focus?

I look at the writing that I have been doing in the past 3 or so years, and I think, yeah, there are good parts in here, but do I really want to invest myself so deeply in what might end up encouraging schizophrenia?

Those are more mental questions than Vikki knew she was stirring up, perhaps.

I know that I enjoy the creative process that writing is. Even the process of revising has its small joys and victories.

...Maybe, for now, I will content myself with that, and write on...

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Working Through It

It's been a pretty hectic couple of weeks for the TriMu. We've had a lot of writerly stuff going on and that's taken its toll on us all. (See Sarah's post from last Friday for more details of the tragic brain explosion.) I've also had some personal stuff going on that's been dragging my brain off in ten thousand other directions, none of which involves a familiar.

But through all of that, there are still things that need to be done, other projects that cannot be abandoned in light of our having other things to do. Deadlines are deadlines and even self-imposed ones must stand or the whole system falls apart.

So even though I was feeling tired and burned out and my Muse wasn't speaking to me, I kept opening up my WIP every day and pounding away at it. The words came with painful slowness, needing to be dragged kicking and screaming out of my imagination and forced through stiff wooden fingers to grind past the keyboard and onto the page.

To say writing was difficult for the past few days would be the understatement to end all understatements.

And then, as it always does, something lovely and amazing happened. I was sitting at my laptop yesterday, at a ridiculously late hour of the night (or a ridiculously early hour of this morning, if you want to get technical) because I was still several thousand words away from my goal for the day, when my Muse snuck back into the room.

She stuck her arm through the doorway, waving a white flag fashioned out of either a crumpled paper napkin or an Armani handkerchief. (I'm not sure which as I was tired and getting a little bleary-eyed.) She even offered to bring me a caffeinated beverage if I would just let her play with the familiars again for a few hours.

Two hours later, my word count goal for the day was met by over one thousand words and now the last few chapters of the book are sitting right on the edge of my brain, just waiting for me to let them fly out onto the page.

The morale of the story? Even when your brain is 'sploded and you feel like you couldn't string together a coherent sentence to save your life, keep writing. Write your way through it. It's the only way to get past it.

Or, as Kalayna says, the Muse comes to those waiting at the keyboard.