Choices, Choices

I’d been thinking over this topic for a while, planning to tackle it eventually, when a serendipitous moment occurred at the library yesterday.

Our local library is small, just one room smaller than my bedroom, and mostly filled with children’s and cookbooks.  We are very lucky, that in spite the limitations on books available (including having one of my pet peeves, stocking the sequel in a series, but not the original book) they do a small summer reading program.  The local military kids get together once a week, read a book, picnic outside, do a craft project, and of course, check out books at the end of the day.

While looking at books with my daughters, I was surprised to see a John Grisham novel nestled between the other young adult and midgrade books.  I initially thought it must be a shelving error.  I don’t know his novels well, but I was pretty sure they were not for children.  After I looked a little closer, I realized it was no mistake.  While he is best known for his adult mystery and crime novels, he also began writing for the midgrade reader.

This was one of those moments that gave me hope.  I have thought hard about the relationship between author and genre.  Establishing a name as a writer is as much about creating a brand as anything else.  Stephen King is known for horror, Sophie Kinsella for light hearted romance, J.K. Rowling for Harry Potter.  It’s not that readers won’t touch their other books, but they are likely to be disappointed if it is not what they were anticipating.  I have to say, if I picked up a Stephen King novel and found it to be a fluffy love story, I would be a bit surprised; it wouldn’t be what I was expecting or wanting at the moment.

Knowing the importance of this genre branding, I get a little worried.  I have ideas that are all over the place.  I have a young adult fantasy romance, a midgrade inspired by my daughter’s personality and goals, a new adult paranormal, a young adult horror, a young adult fairy tale, a young adult romance, a young adult mythology, a midgrade military, a midgrade fantasy, and a chapter book series all in various stages of planning and writing.  Not all of them will turn out to be winners.   I know there are likely to be a few I get slightly into and realize they are big stinkers.

My writing ideas are a bit scattered.  I like many of these ideas now, and want to be able to give them a shot to see if they can be as amazing as I think they might.  However, if I write them all, and try to publish them all, what kind of writer am I?  I couldn’t be exactly one category unless I walk away from everything that doesn’t fit that brand of writing.

I know there is a large difference between a new author writing a little of everything and an established writer branching out.  When you have proven your writing ability and sales clout, it is easy to convince people to take a chance on your new idea.  For the rest of us, it’s a little more difficult.  I already need to convince others that I can be a writer; convincing them I have the ability to bounce around and excel in many places is an entirely different challenge.

It is hard to imagine limiting myself to one genre or one age group right now.  There is the creative aspect to consider; I would never tell my children to not try something creative, and I try to practice what I preach.  Putting a lid on my potential by refusing to explore all of my options does not seem like a practical way of achieving my goals.  Not only do I not know what might be a great novel, but I don’t know what would sell.  What if I choose to drop all YA and pursue only midgrade, only to fight for years without any success.  Maybe my talent would run wild in fantasy, but I never get to show that because I decided to only write realism.

Finding a genre brand seems to be a balance of creativity and practicality.  You have to write where your ideas flow, but you also need to consider what is actually publishable.  There are many successful authors who can manage more than one genre or age group, but for the rest of us, there needs to be a beginning.  There needs to be the first successful book before there can be another attempt.  We can write them all, but in the end, only one will get published first, one which will begin your career and possibly establish you as a genre writer without your ever realizing it was happening.

What is the responsibility of the writer to their genre, once it is established?  What if I break into chapter books first?  Does that give me a responsibility to censor my other writing, just in case my readers stumble across a young adult novel I write?  How much freedom does the writer have to explore other genres, without alienating the potential fan base?

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Finding the Little Guy

As someone who one day would like to be published, preferably through traditional means, I have been fascinated by the current Amazon vs. Hachette drama.

I’ll be honest, I am not great at the business aspect of publishing.  Ever since my first moment as a child, when I picked up a notepad and pencil and decided I could be a writer, I have been focused on the art or writing.  I was going to be an author, and in my mind that meant my concern should be the writing; the business was going to be someone else’s problem.  After finishing my first manuscript, I began rethinking that strategy.  I’m still learning, and there is a lot I don’t know.  In truth, I think no matter how much I try to learn now, it will be a bit of a baptism by fire when I get to the final moments of publishing, no matter how I choose to do it.

I didn’t come to this argument due to a desire to know everything going on between the two companies.  I ran across an article on twitter a couple of weeks ago.  Someone had linked to an interesting read on the influence Amazon has had in the publishing world, discussing the benefits that are available to authors and small publishing houses.  It spoke of how this company that no one believed had anything power to affect publishing was making headway, and was finally a power large enough to challenge the Big Five.  They spoke as though someone had finally given David a slingshot and rock, and finally Goliath might fall.  (I looked for the article to link here, but for the life of me I can’t find it anymore.)

A few days later, I ran across a comment where John Green was speaking out against Amazon’s treatment of the authors of Hachette.  I was slightly confused, considering the article I had just read sang their praises, and John Green is an intelligent man in the literary field.  Hmm.

Shortly after that, I found another blurb where J.K. Rowling was also against Amazon for their practices regarding her new book (written under her pen name, Robert Galbraith and published through Hachette).  I still thought it was weird.  J.K. Rowling is a very wealthy writer, but is reported to give a large amount to charity so it didn’t seem like it would be the greed talking.  She doesn’t need the money that comes from writing new books, so she wouldn’t be complaining because her paycheck was a little smaller.

The final straw came while I was watching The Colbert Report.  As a Hachette author, Stephen Colbert was very unhappy to find his books unavailable on Amazon, or given large delivery delays.  He was joining the fight not only through a few small snide comments, but by declaring everyone should completely boycott Amazon, not buying any products from them.  His campaign involved not only the hashtag, cutdowntheamazon, but also the promotion of a smaller debut Hachette author who was losing out on pre order sales.

I was still a little confused as to how an issue I had read a little about seemed to have such a strangely large following on the side that seemed to be wrong.  I knew that the obvious answer to that was that I didn’t know nearly enough about what was going on.  So, I read up on the fight a little.  I read a lot of articles, on both sides, far too many to link here, and honestly I read them over a couple of weeks, so I didn’t save them all.  If you would like to know more than my summary, and I encourage you to do the research yourself, search this argument online yourself.  Amazon vs. Hachette will get you a lot of anti-Amazon articles, whereas Amazon vs. Big Five will be more on the pro-Amazon side.  If you really want to know what is going on, look at both sides.

From the pro Hachette side, I learned that they are currently in negotiations with Amazon involving their distribution.  These negotiations are on the tail end of a price fixing conspiracy accusation aimed at the Big Five, and Hachette is only the first to hit the table; the other four publishing houses are coming up soon and results here will affect what happens later.  The exact sticking points are officially unknown, but it is reported to be pricing of digital books, and how much profit everyone makes from these.  Since the profits are based on percentages of the sale, and not a fixed price, no one likes Amazon cutting prices on the ebooks, since it also cuts into their profits.  During these negotiations, Hachette books are no longer available for pre-order, have had delayed deliveries, and are no longer coming up on recommendation lists.  These tactics are being attacked as bad form and bullying.

Let me tell you, the writers of these articles are amazing.  I had recently been looking at Amazon as the little guy, taking on the giant publishing houses; now Amazon looked like Godzilla terrorizing Tokyo.

This was slightly confusing for me.  How could one company be both David and Goliath?  Yes, Amazon is a huge company, and they are not going to suffer too much in profit loss from the lack of sales they experience during these negotiations.  And Yes, Hachette is the smallest of the Big Five, but they are certainly not a small or independent publishing company; pen name or not, they have J.K. Rowling on their author list.  They might have a few sales problems, but they have the power to recover.

I can understand Amazon not giving a preorder option when they are in negotiations, or having delays for product shipping.  We are not at the table with them, or in the Amazon warehouses.  I don’t know how much product they have, and I do not know how likely they are to get new product soon.  What I do know, is withholding books is likely the only card Hachette has to play.  Maybe they are already holding back on deliveries, maybe not.  I can’t blame Amazon for being cautious with the possibility that they might.  Making promises when you are not certain you can deliver is not good business.  Is it possible they are only trying to show the power they have over sales?  Absolutely a possibility, but not necessarily any more certain than the idea that they are being cautious and making certain they can continue to keep their promises to their customers.

What I am beginning to see, is that neither of them are in fact the little guy.  This isn’t the story both sides are trying to sell.  There is no David here, just two Goliaths duking it out.  Amazon is great at helping the little guy get out there and get the virtual shelf space they desire, side by side with the big books.  Hachette is a large publishing house, with the staff and knowledge to help turn ok books into bestsellers.  They both have their niche, and they both serve the literary world in their own way, but when they fight the losers are the authors.

I’m not sure I can determine who is in the right here.  These two giants are fighting about the literary business, while I am still lost in the art.  I like knowing that Amazon is there if I ever choose to self publish, but I honestly think I need the backing of an agent and a publishing house to help me make my work it’s best and navigate the long road to publishing.  On the one hand is the options for authors, and the other is the experience and teamwork.  I see too much benefit for both sides of the argument.  All I can hope is that when the dust settles, the writers come out on top.  Publishing is a two way street.  We might need the publishers, but they need us too.   We’re all a part of the process, and losing any of that makes the entire system collapse.

I’m not sure who will win this, and I’m not sure I know who I want to win.  I am definitely curious to see how this plays out.  Whoever wins, there will be a fallout of some sort, and I am curious as to what that will be.

The Twilight of My Rejection

It’s that time again. Time to start gathering my list of the April query letters. I try to send out a batch at least once a month. It’s not always enough time to hear from everyone in the previous batch (or even everyone from the very first batch), but it keeps me moving. I know there are some agents who don’t want you to contact anyone but them, but the truth is, as a writer I have to try to contact as many people as possible. You won’t hear from everyone, and the odds are a decent portion of those you do hear from will be rejections.

This knowledge is something I went into the query game with. I knew it would be difficult. We all want to be the one writer who never received a single rejection (though I think the rest of us kind of reject them so it evens out a little). I know how rare that person is. The most successful writers in history have all received rejections, including some of the most cruel comments possible. It happens. Before we begin, we must accept that.

Beyond the knowledge that most people will be rejected a few times, I knew what my personal battle be. I’m trying to sell a first novel that happens to be a young adult fantasy romance and is the beginning of a series. The only thing that would be more difficult right now was if it was dystopian as well.

Why is this so hard? One word. Twilight. I have to be honest. I am not a Twilight fan. I gave that book every chance I could, and it was a big nope for me. Whether or not I liked it doesn’t matter though. It made an impact on modern publishing for a few reasons.

Firstly, it was successful. Very successful. Probably more successful than it should have been. It made a large amount of money for everyone involved, and became a basis of comparison for other books. It didn’t matter that the other books had nothing in common with Twilight, the other books were successful and therefore there was a comparison. This extends to books being queried now. If there could be a comparison, the novel may never see the light of day. Sure, it could be a success, but it is unlikely to match the success of Twilight. Why pick a book that is unlikely to become a huge success?

Second, Twilight hit on a time of vampire obsession. I don’t think we can credit the book, anymore than we can credit The Walking Dead with the zombie craze. It was released at a time when that was what people wanted, at just the right time in a trend. The appeal made sense, and may be why I had a major crush on Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer for a long time. Vampires appeal to younger girls who want a bad boy, but don’t want the drama of actually dating one. An undead yet gorgeous guy who may just kill you qualifies but he is fictional and therefore safe. Vampires also appeal to middle aged mothers who are wishing for a little of the excitement that has faded from their lives. It doesn’t matter that the person they are fantasizing about is better suited to their daughter (or son, whatever) and should be underage. Technically, as an immortal creature, they are legal so it’s not creepy. It doesn’t matter if your story has nothing to do with vampires. If there is even the tiniest inkling of paranormal romance, it can be shuffled into this category.

Third, is Stephanie Meyers herself. A stay at home Mom who started writing simply because she had an idea. A success story for bored housewives and hobbyists. Sure she has written more since then, but it doesn’t change what she has done. I imagine there are thousands of woman, staying home with their babies, writing in their spare time and thinking they could have a best seller on their hands. Agents, publishers, and editors are not fond of hobbyists in general. They want serious writers, people who are devoted to their craft. Being a stay at home mother, changing careers or even taking a break from a career and writing while you have the time? Sorry Ma’am, we have enough letters from housewives who want to make a quick buck. We only take serious writers.

Yes, I knew I would have an uphill battle. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t considered quitting already. Not giving up on my dream completely, just postponing this particular tale until after I sell something else, something a little easier. However, I am already three months in. I might as well dive in completely and finish what I started. Just because I haven’t found the right place for my book, doesn’t mean I won’t ever find the right one.

Finding an agent is kind of like dating. You look at who is available, scout them a little, trying to get a feel for who they are, and make a pass. Maybe they go for it, and maybe they don’t feel the same connection you did. Does that mean you get thirty cats and start yelling at neighborhood kids, officially becoming the creepy cat lady? No, you hit the bar the next night and see if you can make a connection with someone else.

That doesn’t mean rejection just rolls off your back every time. Sure some letters I can shrug off. I try to find mostly agents and agencies I can see myself and my book fitting in with. But every now and then you have to send a letter off to a long shot. It’s like giving your number to the hottest guy at a party; he probably got several numbers that night, but he has to call someone eventually, right? Maybe it will be you, maybe not. When you don’t get the call, you’re not too surprised. Some agencies are huge, and successful. They don’t take too many new clients, so when you are not among them, yeah, you’re disappointed, but not surprised. Sadly, it is more common for me to feel there could have been something. Not only was the agency good looking, but they have so much in common with my book. I mean seriously. I could totally see my book on their shelves. What are your current favorites? Mine too! We have so much in common, what to you mean we’re not a good fit?

I shouldn’t complain too much about rejections. Not only did I know it would happen, but I have been lucky enough to not get any of the cruel, overly insulting letters you hear nightmare stories about. I’m honestly not sure what I would do if I got one of those. I’d like to say I would laugh, maybe frame it for when I’m successful later. Truthfully, I’d probably cry and finish off several bottles of wine, while sitting in my sweats and eating ice cream. I’m kind of hoping to never find out.

For now, I’m working on using rejections as motivation. Someday I would like to be the author sitting in front of the hopeful writers, a room full of people who are struggling, and tell them, yes. Once upon a time I sat in your place. I cried, wondering if things would ever come together for me. I wondered if I was making a mistake, and I thought of giving up. But instead I sat back down, and wrote some more. I tried again, I persevered, and in the end I made it.

In My Experience

I don’t think I have hidden my love of reading and writing.  I never go anywhere without something to read, and when I finish a book I have a tendency to wander around, slightly lost as if I don’t know what to do with my life anymore.  Usually when that happens, it is because the writing itself is magnificent.  I’m not talking about the story, or the characters, but all of the small details that make you feel as though you are there.  I’m talking about knowing how something feels in the characters hands, knowing how something smells or tastes or sounds.  I’m talking about the writing that turns the novel into a full sensory experience. 

This is usually my goal as I set a scene, particularly if I am making up a place or time.  It is one thing to say my character lives in San Francisco and can see the Golden Gate Bridge from their house.  Many people have been to San Francisco, and even those who haven’t are very likely to know what the bridge looks like.  There isn’t much else to say.  However, if I am making up a magical land, the reader would not have an idea what anything looks like.  Is the grass still green?  What do their houses look like?  Do they have indoor plumbing, or is there the stench of unwashed bodies and sewage?  These are details that can either bog down the story if over done, or draw the reader into the world of the novel if contained at the proper levels.

The question is, how do writers do it?  How do other writers create descriptions of things they have never seen or done?  I’ve never lived in a magical land, and (fortunately) I have always lived in a place with wonderful modern sanitation practices.  I could describe the smell in the same way I would a teenagers bedroom; one part sweat, two parts dirty socks, and one part rotting food.  It might not technically be the same thing, but it is slightly close. 

I imagine there are many things where I could draw on other experiences to fill in the blanks.  I run, I cook, I clean.  I fell in love, and I have had my heart broken.  I took kickboxing classes in the past.  It was more for fitness, but I know how it feels to hit the bag and meet resistance.  I have never been in a knife fight, but I do have a small collection of daggers.  I sharpen them with a stone once a week, and am well acquainted with the feel of the knives in my hand, or in their sheath on my hip.  I have a set of throwing knives, and while I am not great, I know how it feels to aim and release the knife, waiting for it to hit its target.  I took archery lessons briefly; while it was long enough ago some of the memory has faded, I can still remember the pull of the string.  I can describe these things easily, because they are familiar. I have experience here.

But how do I write about that which I haven’t done?  I have always wanted to learn to sword fight, but I have never held a sword, and wondered if this was the battle I would lose.  I’ve never held a gun, or had a gun pointed at me.  I’ve sat on a horse before, but I’ve never ridden across an open field, wind whipping through my hair.  I know the feel of my knives well, but I don’t know the feel of slicing through flesh, and knowing this was the cut that would end a life.  I’ve never jumped out of an airplane and hoped that the parachute would open, or even worse, hoped I could catch the person falling before me who has a parachute when I don’t.  There are so many things I just haven’t done. 

Some of these things are not experienced for practical reasons.  I don’t really want to have my life in someone else’s hands if I can help it.  I don’t want to spend the money to buy a gun just to know how it feels in my hand.  I want to try skydiving, but I have a paralyzing fear of heights and do not want to risk falling through any substances that may come out of my body when fear overtakes me in the air.

And what is my alternative?  To describe things based on someone else’s words?  What if they don’t know any more than I do?  I can only assume that not every mystery or horror writer has killed someone, just to know how it would feel.  Does that mean I don’t need experience to create an authentic feel?

I know I like having something real to draw on, but I think I have written good descriptions without it.  I’m really wondering how you feel.  How important is personal experience in creating fictional experiences?

Getting Speed

I have a confession to make.  I am a terribly slow writer.  Unless of course you are a prospective agent reading my blog.  Then I am quick, efficient and will not ever have any trouble meeting deadlines.  But for the rest of you, on an average day, I write quite slowly.

I’m not certain why it is that I write the way I do.  When I am typing at top speed I average between 60 and 70 words per minute, with sixty being errorless, and 70 having 98% accuracy.  (Okay, I do speed typing tests in my spare time.  I’m a writing nerd.  I accept this.)  This doesn’t give me the quickest fingers at the keyboard, but it is slightly above the average speed of 38-40 words per minute.  (Again, writing nerd.  It’s cool.  Nerd’s are sexy.)  I have the potential to type 3,600 words per hour. 

So if it is not due to my typing speed, what is my problem?  

As far as I can tell, I have two key issues which make my writing slow.  The first, is my slight tendency to be a perfectionist.  I have mentioned before, I hate typos, and I hate leaving the writing when it doesn’t sound right.  This means occasionally, I will retype a sentence completely in order to change the spelling error at the beginning.  I know I could mouse over the error, but usually by the time I remember I am creating needless work by deleting everything, I am halfway done.  Don’t try to change me.  It also means I may choose to rewrite a sentence, paragraph, page or even chapter repeatedly until I get it right.  I like to think these quirks mean I end up with a high quality first draft, but I suppose that would depend on the reader.  I can say with certainty, I tend to turn in first draft papers to school and receive 100% credit.  (Fine, I will wear a large cardboard sign saying nerd for the rest of the post.)  I still work to revise my novel continuously, but I don’t usually feel the need to do a complete overhaul.  I may eat those words one day when an editor tears apart my manuscript.

My other issue tends to be distraction.  I am distracted by all sorts of shiny objects; a good song, changing the laundry, taking the dog out, my phone beeping a new email or tweet, lunch time.  Anything really can pull me away from the keyboard for a few minutes, no matter how well the writing is going that day.  Even when everything is splendid, I am writing quickly and I know it is going well, I still get the need to get up and walk around.  I’m just going to make a cup of coffee.  And change the laundry.  And maybe make a quick snack.  And take Lucy out.  But I am coming right back. 

There is one distraction that does keep me away for a while.  Inspiration.

I know what you are thinking.  What?  How can inspiration keep you from writing?  That’s craziness. 

Please, hear me out before you condemn me.

I always had a desire to be a writer, but I never had or took the time to focus on my writing as much as I have over the last year.  When my focus shifted, placing my creative pursuits in the forefront of my daily life, inspiration seemed to flow regularly.  I couldn’t seem to finish a project without ideas for many new ones spinning in my mind.  For some things, such as quilting, it was easy to keep moving.  I can finish a quilt within a couple of weeks when I truly wish to.  In between, I could sketch and graph out the plans to make the next quilt. 

When it comes to writing, I can be working on a first draft for six months or more.  That is enough time to have ideas for many other novels.  Ideas that I do not want to forget.  They come from various places.  Sometimes it’s a song, or maybe a conversation.  Occasionally, it’s a crazy dream, with one part that might make a good scene in a story, even if the rest is the ravings of a madwoman.  So, I write them down, no matter what I am doing. 

At first these ideas were kept in a computer file.  Some were just a quick tagline, others a slightly detailed plot.  They spanned many different genres, romance, paranormal, fantasy, horror, though they would all one day live within the spectrum of midgrade, young adult and new adult books.  Most of these were beginnings of an idea and no where near ready to consider writing.  Others, might as well have been fully formed and playing on repeat in my mind.  I couldn’t type fast enough to get these ideas out before a new one came along to join it.

I was beginning to worry I would forget the important details before I would have time to write them down completely.  The only possible solution was to begin writing the story out immediately.  It didn’t matter that the novel I was working on wasn’t done, or that a sequel was needed for another one.  This new story was the only one that mattered.  At least until I was halfway through and a new idea was begging to be written.  With the steady flow of inspiration, I should have been writing consistent masterpieces.  Instead I was beginning to acquire a pile of half finished novels, surrounded by half baked ideas.  I needed to do something.

I stumbled upon Denise Jaden’s blog.  Many writers participate in NaNoWrMo, using November to attempt to complete a novel and get themselves one step closer to achieving their goals.  On her website, Denise Jaden had a outline to help writers organize their thoughts.  Theoretically, this will then make it possible to churn out their novel with speedy ease.  How hard can it be once you have the basic plot, the characters, the conflict, the setting, even important scenes drafted in one quick and easy spot? 

So I started trying it for some of my slightly more developed ideas.  Now I have three outlined novels, twelve half baked ideas, and three half finished novels. 

I’m not certain if I have actually made progress.  During the outline process, I did have a few brilliant insights into the potential of the story.  Now, I am excited to write all three of these novels.  Unfortunately I am also honor bound to fulfill my goal of completing the projects I have already begun.  I want desperately to know if using this quick writing technique will be helpful in increasing my productivity.  Normally, I take my idea and just start writing.  I know where I am, and I know where I plan to be in the end, so I just take the journey.  Recently I have been tempted to write out my half finished projects using this outline plan and see what happens.

I know this post is beginning to look like another of my half baked ideas.  Maybe it is.  It is possible I need to start using an outline model for my blog. 

How do my fellow writers feel?  How do you write, by the seat of your pants, or with a carefully constructed plan?  Have you ever outlined a story you were halfway finished with? 

Making and Breaking

I have been struggling with this post for few weeks now.  Part of me knew I needed to sit down and get it out, but a larger part hoped if I never said anything it would go away.  Fortunately, as I start to come out the other side, it gets a little easier to talk about it. 

Everyone has a dream (if you don’t believe me, watch Tangled a few thousand times with a six year old singing along.  You will believe sooner or later).  The sad truth of course, is that not everyone gets their dream.  Some people give up, some people never even try.  In a lot of ways, it isn’t achieving your dream than matters.  Having a dream gives you something to hope for, something to try for, something in the world to make things look a little brighter when the dark times come.  In my worst moments, it sneaks in to remind me; this isn’t my REAL life.  My real life is still coming, just as soon as things are right, it will happen. 

This is part of what makes trying for your dreams so terrifying.  You might catch your dreams, but then, you might not.  When you chase your dreams and they escape you, what is there left to hope for?  Once you try, it will either make you or break you; only you can decide which.

When I started out to finish the novel that had been bouncing around, begging to be written, I knew I had a technical deadline.  We would be here, at this base for three years.  Three years as a stay at home Mom, then it was off to a new base where I would most likely be getting a job again.  Three years to finish the novel and make it as a writer.

As anyone trying to sell a book knows, that timeline is extremely optimistic. 

Barely entering my second year, I started trying to find an agent and working to build a platform.  I still had time, and was working on several other books, including the sequel to the first novel.  I have a file filled with notes for future books ideas I don’t want to forget while I wait to have time to write them.  Things were looking good.  Inspiration was everywhere, I couldn’t seem to stop writing.  I knew I was going to make it as a writer.  I had so many ideas, in different genres, even if the first didn’t sell, one of these was bound to be my break through novel.  After one sells, we can always come back to the other ones and try again.  I was certain, I was making it.

Then I crashed.

News came along that changed my deadline.  Military cuts will be announced later this year, telling me if we continue on the path we have chosen, or if we are done early.  After the years we have devoted, and planned to devote, our life sits at a crossroads, with no idea of the path we will be taking.  

Suddenly, I felt a new deadline looming.  I needed to know I could do this within six months, or I would run out of time.  Six months, when the cuts were announced, I had to have an answer on what I was doing with my future.  Could I make it as a writer in that time, or would I be back to a day job, wishing I wasn’t too exhausted to write at night?  And in that moment, I knew. 

I knew I wasn’t going to make it anymore.  I could keep sending out my letters, making a token effort, but it wasn’t going to happen.  In six months, we would hear our fate, and at that point I would be back to work in either three months on one year.  Either way, my time would be almost over.  Two months of feeling I could, only to have the world laugh as it told me I couldn’t.

I tried to keep going.  I sat in front of my computer everyday as usual, but the words no longer came.  The days of spitting out double digit pages in the morning were gone.  Now I was lucky if I could manage double digit words.  I still had new ideas coming, some of which had potential, but I no longer knew they would one day be finished books, destined to grace the shelves of a bookstore. 

I had tried to make it, and two months later, I broke.

Of course, the story does not end there.  I’m still here, still writing.  I’d like to say the story has a happy ending.  I’d like to say that just as I hit my darkest hour, I was signed with an agent.  Sadly that is not true.  Yet. 

I’m still here, slightly cracked, but not completely broken.  I’m still here, because as we writers know, sometimes there needs to be a sequel.  The first book broke me down a bit, but that is how you make a hero.  You break your hero down, to show them what is important and you give them something to fight for. 

I’m no hero, but maybe I can be, at least a little.  When life tries to break down around me, I can use those cracks as hand holds to pull me higher. 

Maybe following your dream doesn’t make you or break you.  Maybe it will do a little of both.  Two weeks ago, I was breaking down, ready to give up already.  Today, I am writing again, working to make it.  Who knows where I will be in another two weeks, let alone six months.  I might break again, but that doesn’t mean I have to stay broken.

Breaking the Rules

Rules govern our lives.  We follow the laws of our country, and our city.  We follow the rules of the road.  We follow rules of social behavior.  We follow the rules because they work.  Until they don’t.  Naturally there is even a rule for that; rules are made to be broken. 

While writing I try to follow the rules.  Mostly these are rules of grammar, spelling, and structure.  Occasionally these are the laws that govern a made up world I must follow in order to maintain the integrity of the tale.  I do however gather as many of the rules of writing as possible. These laws are written by the experts, or those published authors who have achieved everything to which we struggling beginners aspire to one day have.  In spite of my desire to follow the rules, there are two which I cannot help but break, and two which I always follow.

FEEL FREE TO BREAK THESE RULES!

1) Write first, edit later. 

The only time when I follow this rule is when it is combined with Hemingway’s rule; write drunk, edit sober.  I cannot continue when I know there is something intrinsically wrong with the work I am doing.  Sometimes it is as simple as the little wiggly line telling me there is a spelling, grammar, or syntax error.  That little wiggling line taunts me, demanding my attention, insisting I fix the error before I move on.  I can’t help it, I am bound to obey the wiggly line.  I’ve tried turning it off, but it doesn’t work.  I still know the mistake is there, waiting for me.

 
Other times the problem is bigger, such as a difficulty within the story itself.  These problems manifest as a small unhappiness, a tiny doubt that things are correct.  You try to move on, but you know something is not right.  This should not be ignored.  If there is a problem with the story, it will only get bigger by ignoring it.  Each word you write is another shovelful in the hole you are digging yourself into.  At some point you will need to get out.  That task us much easier in a shallow hole.  Editing early can keep the problem within a manageable level, allowing you to fix it before you have to completely rewrite a 300+ page novel.

2) Write what you know 

I write for the same reason I read.  I write for the same reason I watch movies.  I write for the same reason that I close my eyes and daydream on a bad day.  I write to visit a world that is different than the one where I live.  I write to change things that I hate in the world.  I write to answer the question, what if.  I write about things I do not know because I want to know.  Were I to write strictly about what I know, no one, including me, would want to read that.  I live an ordinary life, with very little excitement.  The things that make my life exciting are hardly worth mentioning to others.  But when I write, I am able to create a world that IS exciting.  I can change one tiny thing about reality and watch as everything becomes more amazing for it.  I would not wish to write about what I know, because I would rather know more.

NEVER BREAK THESE TWO RULES!

1) Read

Most of what I have learned about writing, I learned from reading.  I know there are different schools of thought on this one; read only the genre or age you want to write, read nothing that is even similar to your creation.  Both of these are valid points.  Reading your genre will allow you to keep in touch with your target audience, both the readers and the agents, editors and publishers.  Of course avoiding these areas will make sure you do not accidentally borrow thoughts from another writer.  I would hate to realize that I had taken large elements of my story from someone else.  Inspiration is one thing, outright theft of a story is another. 

The advice to read for writing goes on and on.  Read classics to learn what makes a novel timeless.  Read new books to learn what is currently relevant.  Read only from established authors to learn what makes a career last.  Read new authors to see what made them break through. 

As for me?  I do it all.  I read the books I love, over and over, studying what makes me come back.  I read the books I hate, often more than once, trying to figure out what made me hate them.  When writing my novel, I often thought, what popular book would I like to be compared to?  Which would I hate to be compared to?  From there I worked to shape my storytelling, eliminating the things that would bring me closer to the novel I hated.  It may not stop the comparison, but at least it can help to eliminate the worst parts.

2)Write

This should be a no brainer, but for many this is the biggest mistake they make in completing their novel.  It is wonderful to have an idea, but if you never write it will never be anything more than an idea.  I have a small plastic tray I keep on my desk.  It is a cheap thing I found in a strange store in Okinawa, but I fell in love with it for the saying printed on it; you cannot plow a field by turning it over in your mind.  No matter how much you think about writing, nothing is more productive than actually writing. 

Every now and again, writing doesn’t seem to be working for me.  I stare at the page and I cannot seem to make anything work.  On those days, it is a great time to work on revisions.  If my story isn’t flowing on it’s own, I go back to the beginning.  Read everything I have written already, make little changes, and bring myself back to the end.  Usually by the time I get back to the end I know what I need to do to keep the words moving.

 

In the end, what works for me may not work for everyone else.  Of course, it doesn’t matter much to me what works for everyone else.  No one but me will be writing my novel.  Everyone else can keep their writing rules; I’ll be happy to keep mine.

Waiting

I skipped a blog post last week.  I’m not sure if anyone noticed, but I noticed.  My schedule said I was to write a post, and I didn’t.  I felt guilty all day.  Maybe that is slightly ridiculous, but I felt as though I had stood someone up.  I promised to be there, and then I didn’t show up.  No note, no phone call, no word at all, just deafening silence. 

The truth is I had moved my writing focus elsewhere for the day.  Pursuing writing is something that is somewhat recent for me.  Last year, I focused on writing a novel I felt good about (at least on most days I feel good about it).  This year, I am working on writing still, with blogging and now four open novels.  I am however also shifting my focus to include publishing.  For some the idea of publishing a novel you have been working on for only a year may seem premature, and maybe it is.  However, publishing a novel takes time, and it is hard to say I am done even though I am sending out queries and samples.  I’m not sure if I will completely feel I am done until the book has been released.  Even then I’m quite sure I will look back and know I should have done something different. 

It has only been a month since I started sending out query letters.  The first batch received a few rejections, as well as a few agents who have not yet responded.  I would love to say I sent out my queries and did not receive a single rejection, but I might as well be honest.  I am blogging through this journey, and if I leave out the bad, the good will not be anywhere near as exciting.  After one month, I decided it was time to send out a new batch of queries.  Yes, my writing focus last week was on revisions.  It was time to check my query letter and again and revise my manuscript, particularly the beginning which will go out much more often than the end.

After my revisions were finished, I spent a little time researching agents.  There are lists upon lists of agents available online, and many agents represent so many different types of books, it is hard to tell what they say they represent versus the books they sell.  It may sound like the same thing, but there is a slight difference.  An agency may say it works with all YA, but that doesn’t mean my novel will fit in with their current projects.  It’s as though the agency is dishonest about what they represent, but it is a matter of taste. 

I personally like to spend a little time going over the agency website, looking at their current books and their upcoming sales as well as any other form of social media they advertise.  I don’t necessarily spend a lot of time looking up articles from the past for every agent I query, but I feel a lot can be learned from the website and their twitter page.  I want an agent who is more than just someone who will represent one thing from me; I want to find an agent who I can talk with about other potential projects and will be willing and able to work with me wherever the creative spirit takes me.  It’s hard to find a good match, and sometimes it means I skip an agency who I think may not be a good fit.  Yes, there are some who I have noted as long shots, but hey, sometimes you have to throw a letter out even if you know you are not likely to ever hear from them.  That’s part of taking a chance.   

My new batch of letters is not quite done.  I sent out eight new ones last week, but as a few are long shots, I’d like to send out a few more.  I am however, returning to the waiting game now.  Agents are busy people, I understand and accept that.  However, the moment I send off a letter, a song pops into my head and I am watching my email box and waiting for an answer.

See for me, it’s not the rejections that are hard.  Don’t get me wrong, rejections don’t feel good, but they are expected.  The most successful writers of all time still had to deal with rejection.  It is something that I’m sure will happen again.  No, for me, it is the waiting, the not knowing that gets me.  I have heard from agents after one day before, and others I have not heard from at all.  After sending off new letters it is impossible to know what time frame the agent will actually have on their slush pile.  Every time my phone sings out a little ping telling me I have an email I get excited for a moment; will this be more spam or am I hearing something already?  Could they want to read more?  Am I being rejected?  Or are bras on sale at Victoria’s Secret again?

I never thought about how much of publishing is novel is a waiting game.  I spent months, typing, thinking, plotting, revising, and typing some more.  It wasn’t as active as running a marathon, but I could feel like I was making progress.  Now, as I revise and query, my fate is in someone else’s hands; with each letter an agent looks at the words I have put to a page and determines my worth.  Yes, MY worth, not just the worth of my story.  They are deciding not only if the one story is worth their time, but also if I am.  A bad story can be revised, but a poor writer will take too much of their time to fix.  For this reason, trying to publish my novel is by far the most terrifying thing I have ever done.  I have placed myself and my creativity at the hands of another person, and now I am sitting in the chair, awaiting their judgment.

Just waiting.

Daydreaming

I have often had trouble completing goals in my life.  It’s not a lack of desire or focus, it is a measure of magnitude.  People always recommend making small goals.  Don’t try to lose 70 pounds, start with seven.  Don’t start with a marathon, start with a mile.  I don’t seem to know how to make small goals.  I will admit to the truth.  I want it all.  I might take the small steps along the way, but my eyes are always on the prize.  This means my goals take a little while to accomplish.

There aren’t many things that drive me more nuts than people saying in an interview they never dreamed they would have the success they currently have.  I used to think these people were lying; now I think they dream wrong.  How did none of their wildest dreams involve being successful?  My calm and quiet dreams reach farther than that.  Your wildest dreams shouldn’t be that one person sees your work.  Your wildest dreams should have statues erected in your honor, your own world wide holiday, and a Nobel peace prize.

Why dream that you will be an actor when you can dream of winning a Oscar, having a the highest grossing movie of all time, and being so high in demand, you have your pick of projects and people are rearranging their schedules to suit you.  Anyone can act; community theater is available everywhere giving everyone a chance.  Not everyone can be a highly paid, in demand and award winning actor.

I don’t just want to be a writer; I already am a writer.  I write, therefore I am a writer.  I want to be published.  I want readers to make an emotional connection to my work.  I want to have a best seller.  I want to be paid well enough to not need another job.  I want a novel turned into a movie or a television show.  I want a fan base who are deeply devoted to my story.  I want to write something that changes peoples lives, hopefully for the better.

My dreams are big, crazy, and most likely unachievable.  Yet, from these crazy desires, I make my goals.  Is it any surprise that goal completion is a problem for me?   I dream big.  It’s the only way I know how.  I have a hard time accepting that this is a bad thing.  Sure, it means I have a lot of unfinished goals, but not goals I have given up on.  I might not be a published writer yet, but every successful author started where I am.  They might have started with more talent, more ideas, or more connections, but they were still just a person, sitting with a manuscript and a stack of query letters, waiting for a response.  Maybe they had the same dreams I did.

Don’t worry, I have realistic dreams too.  I know I might always be sitting here, a manuscript and stack of query letters.  If dreams were enough, I would have been flying for years now.  If I get lucky enough to publish, my chances are not great of being a best seller.  Most people aren’t.  But I have never believed you reach the top of a mountain by dreaming of seeing the bottom.  Instead I dream of the view from the top, and step by step, I try to bring myself there.

Leaping

There are many things in life I didn’t think about before doing.  When I met my husband, it never occurred to me to weigh the options of marrying him.  It seemed like it was the thing to do, not even a choice.  I didn’t think too hard about having kids, it was just something that life brought me.  The Air Force sent us to Japan, and I didn’t think twice, I just got on the plane.  Maybe I should have thought a little more, but I just did it. 

It seems as though there are always things you shouldn’t do without careful consideration and thought.  Somehow I seem to have missed out on the memo for these things.  I never looked, I just leapt.  So far, I haven’t regretted anything.  Luckily enough, I have had a net to catch me each time.  It doesn’t mean I’ve never been hurt.  Sometimes the net seems more like a throw pillow; just enough to soften the blow a little, but not enough to avoid something breaking.

In recent years I have found myself looking for the safety net more frequently, but not always when it would seem most prudent. When driving I find myself creating new rituals to create a feeling of safety.  For example, I have become particular about my parking habits; I now only park on the left side of the parking lot, and will be willing to walk a much longer distance in order to have a parking spot away from other cars.  Additionally I will find myself very irritated if someone parks next to me.  I have not been in an accident.  And my car is not so nice as to warrant the special treatment.  I have simply turned into someone who needs the safety net as I park.

However, in other areas, I still do not look before I jump.  I am trying to publish a book right now and writing a blog.  Why do I think anyone wants to listen to me ramble on?  These are prospects that are not necessarily easy to accomplish.  Let’s be honest; I want agents and publishers to read a book I am too scared to share with most of my friends and family.  These people I am frightened to share with are people who like me.  Some of them are contractually obligated though a shared genetic code to make me feel better about my own ridiculousness.  Sure, those I have shared with have been supportive, and have told me my writing is good, but again, they like me.  Agents don’t have to care about my feelings, and they don’t necessarily like me.  Yet somehow, I’m jumping into the unknown, sure that somehow things will work out all right, as they usually do.

How can I leap without a thought from the edge of a cliff, yet hesitate to take the tiny step off my porch?  How does it make sense to think less with the larger risk?  What in the world makes me think this is normal?

I suppose, in truth, I know it is not normal.  I have ranted here, discussing how unusual I find this phenomenon to be.  On some level I know things are not as they should be.  And yet, this is exactly as things should be.

I take a risk, jumping into the unknown for something I want more than anything else, while calculating the risks I can avoid in other areas.  Maybe I have stopped leaping for the little things.  So I walk a little farther to the grocery store, avoiding the challenge of difficult parking so that I can focus on the larger issues.  Or maybe a part of me is finally learning the importance of self-preservation, trying to cut out a few tumbles. Either way, I am still taking the leaps; does it matter if I am looking first?