Friday, January 31, 2014

Words on the Page

I just visited this page for the first time in quite a while, and wow, what a depressing state to leave This Writing Business in for so many months! (My last post was titled "When Things Aren't Going Well.")

I'm happy to report things are going well again. I've been putting my "butt in the chair," as the saying goes, a lot since the start of the new year. I've knocked out at least a quarter of my WIP in the past 30 days alone!

Why the sudden surge of enthusiasm? Well, I'd say my drive has never really left me, but sometime late last year I decided that instead of feeling depressed about my lack of time and energy to write, I'd use that energy to get over myself and just do it. Hardly any writers I know in the modern era actually have time to write. We make time. I'm making time. And guess what? My muse was sitting there, waiting for me, and my characters welcomed me back with open arms.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

When Things Aren't Going Well

All writers face it. At least, that's what I'm telling myself.

I'm feeling discouraged right now as a fiction writer because I've become one of those writers who isn't writing. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. I've had a ream of excuses, most of them related to my day job as a WRITER. Yes, I put thousands of words on the page each week. They're just not my words ... someone pays me to write what they want me to write. In the meantime, my creative energy is being expunged on a daily basis, and at the end of a long day of writing non-fiction, I have nothing left for my own projects.

At some point, the excuses have to stop.

Here I am, a writer (a good writer, thank you very much can we say "affirmation?") with one completed novel, two solid WIPs and several more solid story ideas. But I'm not writing. I'm not revising. I'm not actively, furiously trying to sell what I've already written. And this has been going on for more than two years. It makes me so sad to type that sentence.

I'm not saying I haven't written or revised in more than two years. I'm not even saying I haven't sent a query or two or five. Just that I haven't done any of it consistently, and certainly not with the focus and courage and drive it takes to complete books and get them published.

So now I feel like it's decision time. Do I cut back on my paid work? Chain myself to my desk every night when my mind and body are screaming, "NO! NO! NO! No more computer screen...." I've tried sticking to a schedule, getting out of the house, writing during the workday, going away to write. It all works. For a while. And then I get weary again, and I find myself lost in my own life rather than the lives of my characters.

And then I have to start over. Put myself back in that place. Move back into my characters' heads. Read and reread what I've read and reread a hundred times already. And it's exhausting to do it that way. Almost as exhausting as my work life is on a day-to-day basis.

OK, OK, enough with the "woe is me." What to do about it??? Hmmm.... Honestly, I think I do have to cut back on my paid work. If I'm going to turn myself from a hobbyist to an author, I have to write fiction every day, pure and simple. I have to send those queries, every week, every day. I have to revise, revise, revise and kill my darlings. I have to put new words on the screen each night and greet them the next morning.

I want to be a writer. I am a writer. I just need to write.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Things Chick-Lit Writers Hear

I've never called out the specific genre I write in this blog. (Actually I haven't called out anything at all in this blog in six months. Sorry for my prolonged absence!) Something happened this week that made me think about why I write what I write, and why that's OK.

First, here's what happened:

I had a major, major critique of my first novel Monday night with a group of serious fiction writers. My critique group came together last fall when we were each selected to take part in a fiction writing workshop through a local university. When the workshop ended in December, we kept meeting. I tell you this simply because, though each writer in the group writes a different style of fiction, for the most part we're a literary group. The piece I submitted to gain entry into the workshop falls into the genre of literary fiction.

My works in progress, though, fall clearly in the realm of chick-lit. And I have to admit, when people ask me what I write, I don't tend to shout it proudly. Instead I brush off the question. Sometimes I even make a little joke about it, say something like, "It's just chick-lit. You know, not Shakespeare." Why? Why am I not more proud of the fact that I've written a 100,000-word novel that, by all accounts of people who've read it, is a page-turner with publishing potential?

I'll tell you why. It's because of what other people, mostly people who are unfamiliar with the genre, say to chick-lit writers. Here's a sampling of what I heard at my critique:

  • I was surprised to find I became engaged in the story. I cared about the characters and even shed a tear or two along the way. This came from someone who said she would "not normally seek out a book described as chick-lit." She'd never read the genre, so she had no idea there are tons -- hundreds, if not thousands -- of smartly written chick-lit novels out there with engaging, deep storylines and well-drawn characters.
  • You're a really good writer. You should consider writing more literary work. Yeah, OK, I want to do that, too. But I love writing chick-lit. People love reading chick-lit. And there's nothing wrong with that. Really.
I know not everyone wants to read the type of fiction I write, and that's OK, too. I read constantly (there's a book in my laptop bag at the office with me right now), and I tend to read books within the same three or four genres -- genres that appeal to me. I just wish, like many chick-lit writers before me, that my personal favorite genre would be less scoffed at by the literary community-at-large.

There's room in the world for chick-lit. Hopefully, in fact, there's room for a couple more books by an as-yet undiscovered author.

Photo courtesy of natalie's new york

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Surviving Rejection

I did it.

I finally, finally, FINALLY sent my first query letter. Sent it on Wednesday, received my first form rejection on Thursday.

Deflating, you ask? Why yes, yes it was. But only for a minute. It fueled my fire to get more queries out there, because it taught me that, yes, the query process really is as terrible and demoralizing and ruthless as everybody says it is, so I might as well just get over myself and get my manuscript out there. It might not get published, but it certainly won't get published if I don't send it out. Which leads me to an additional reason to add to my last post's list:
  • The possibility of getting published is more appealing than the reality of getting rejected. Sad but true. A manuscript sitting on my hard drive, untainted by real-world opinion, is a manuscript that's full of promise. A query letter getting kicked back with a big red X on it 24 hours after I finally got up the nerve to send it is a reality check. A really, really big one. It's also a challenge.
I'd set a goal to send one query letter a week from here on out, but I don't think that's good enough. I'd rather send two a week, maybe three. Bring on the punishment, people! I can take it. At least now I'm doing something with my manuscript, not letting it languish on my hard drive, emanating fruitless hope and unfulfilled promise.

Yeah, so rejection sucks. So does fear of getting rejected. I choose to be brave.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Clicking "Send"

Such a simple thing to do. One flick of the wrist. One tap of the touchpad. Why can't I do it? Why? Why?? Why??? WHY????

Oh, I don't know. Maybe....

  • Fear of rejection. Have you read all those rejection stories? The authors who got 65 rejection letters before landing an agent? The writers who are still waiting on an acceptance letter, like, three years after they started sending queries? The writers who got so sick of the rejection process they uploaded their manuscripts to Smashwords and B&N PubIt! and became self-published NY Times bestsellers? (OK, now I'm dreaming, but I actually do know one author this happened to.) I'm not particularly masochistic, so I'm not looking forward to this whole rejection thing.
  • Extreme perfectionism. I want every i dotted, every t crossed and every modifier to dazzle, not dangle. What can I say? After five drafts and countless hours (days/weeks/months/years) staring at the same set of words, it still doesn't feel good enough to submit. Yeah, I realize it's a personal problem.
  • Inability to let go. I love my characters. I love them so much it borders on unhealthy. Once I officially move this book into "query phase," I have no excuse anymore to keep revising the book incessantly, at the expense of my other projects.
  • Query letter paralysis. OK, if it's unhealthy to stare at the same 100,000 words over and over and over again, it must be really, really unhealthy to stare at the same four paragraphs over and over again. But seriously, could the query letter writing process be any more intimidating? Thanks, Query Shark. (Oh, and seriously, thanks, Query Shark. You're very helpful, really.)
I ... have ... to ... click ... send. Is there a 12-step program for aspiring authors?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Moral of Support

I acquired something very, very valuable recently: a crit group.

When I started writing my first novel, I talked about it to a few friends. I had a couple of beta readers and one fantastic alpha reader. But what I didn't have were writer friends. And by that I mean writer friends who weren't related to me or married to me or otherwise friends with me. People who would give me the hard facts about my fiction. People whose brutal, honest feedback about my work would really help.

That's not to say my alpha-betas weren't helpful. They were A-Mazing. But if the book was bad, they were going to love it (and me) anyway ... and I'm sure they wouldn't have had an easy time telling me it sucked. So what I needed were people who'd be as impartial and pitiless as the agents who will (hopefully) pick my manuscript up from the sludge pile. Agents who don't know me, don't love me and certainly won't love my book just because it's mine.

Aargh!! What to do? In a city of a million people, you'd think it'd be pretty easy to find a writers' group, but It. Is. Not. I googled writers, writing, writing groups, writing conferences, writing workshops. I pored over social media and discovered jillions of other people like me out there who struggle with this writing business (get it?) on a daily basis. But I had a hard time finding writers who were nearby.

Eventually, I did find a few. It wasn't a google search that did it. It was plain and simple word of mouth ("You're a writer? Oh, my neighbor's a writer, too. You should meet her....") and good ol' coincidence ("Hey! I didn't know you'd be at this party....") Finding them has been all I hoped it would be. They, too, are A-Mazing.

And now, through another chance encounter, I finally have a bona-fide critique group. (Woo-hoo!!) We met at a 12-week writing workshop that took place last fall at a local university. The professor was awesome, very encouraging (and I know that's not always the case, so I consider myself super lucky to have worked with him). And the students, now my critique partners, are talented writers and critics. Our work isn't similar - in fact, our group of seven writers represents seven different genres - but we all have similar goals.

We also have another thing in common: We need each other! They'd been floundering out there alone in this writing thing, just like me. We had our first non-workshop-related meeting this week, and it was A - wait for it - Mazing. We critiqued two manuscripts, and the critiques were honest, brutal, merciless, helpful. Exactly what I need as I get ready to step off the ledge ... ahem ... I mean, query a manuscript.

Photo credit Phillip Hagerman

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Goals in Focus

A writer friend of mine posted recently on Facebook that instead of resolutions, she’s come up with a “theme word” for 2012. I thought that was a pretty fantastic idea. Resolutions are meant to be broken, but a one-word theme equates to a goal that can stick with me throughout 2012. My theme was pretty easy to come up with:

FOCUS

I was so, so, so all over the place in 2011. Most weeks, I had something on my calendar every single day and every single night. I wasn’t home to hang out with my son, I wasn’t home to cook family dinners, I wasn’t home to write. Career-wise, things were much the same. I started the year as an interior designer by day, novelist by night. As the year progressed, I became a full-time freelance writer and I struggled to manage my paying projects, let alone find time to work on my (as of yet) non-paying fiction.

This year, I want to focus on what’s important. And for me, that’s two things: my family and my fiction. Of course I still have to work, and I have to do a great job for my paying clients, but if last year taught me anything, it’s that I have to prioritize. Prioritize my time, prioritize my goals, prioritize my life.

I have to FOCUS.

And when it comes to my fiction, I have a new goal to focus on: submitting queries. Yep. The time has come to get off my laurels and begin sending out this book I’ve been slaving and obsessing over for nearly two years. Is it ready? Yes. No. Maybe. It’s as ready as I can make it, and I guess that makes me ready for the next step. And now for another goal: I’m going to chronicle the journey here. The good, the bad and the really, really bad.

Yikes. Wish me luck!