Just Write Cat

One Writer, One Journey

The Power of Nerves September 30, 2009

Filed under: Where Did That Come From??,Write,Writing — justwritecat @ 11:27 pm

Waiting for a response to your query?  Mailed out a partial and chewing your nails and hoping the phone will ring?  Turn that nervous energy into creative energy by entering a writing contest! 

Writing contests are a perfect way to practice your craft, possibly win a prize or two and light a fire under your creative muse.  One of the reasons I love giving contests a try is  it helps take me past my comfort zone.  Example – Grammar Girl recently featured a contest in honor of National Punctuation Day.  I didn’t win, but I did stretch my writer’s imagination by entering a poem (Love Letter to a Comma).  I never, ever write poetry.  I’ve never even felt comfortable trying to write a poem.  My mind simply doesn’t think in verse!  But, I gave it a go and had rather a good time with the process.  Below are a few current Writing Contests that might spark your creativity and stretch your writing muscles.

There’s a little known magazine for writers called Writer’s Digest (pick up an issue sometime).  Along with helpful articles and tips on writing/finding an agent/getting published, they sponsor a variety of contests.  Right now, there’s the Show Us Your Shorts Contest.  There are several genres and categories (poetry, horror, romance to name a few) and very nice prizes (top prize is 2500.00).  Deadlines range from November to December of this year, so get writing!

This one ends soon!  Check out New Scientist and their Flash Fiction contest.  Very cool theme that asks you to submit a 350 word story set 100 years in the future.  Deadline is October 15.

I had fun with this one…check out the Guide to Literary Agents blog for their Worst Storyline Ever Contest.  You can enter up to two loglines, no more than 64 words long.  Hurry – deadline is October 5th.  My entries – Jewish zombie and Suicidal Pillsbury Doughboy.  See, usually I have happy kind of thoughts…so this one really tested those boundaries.  And you know what – I liked it!

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Be a Good Scout September 23, 2009

Filed under: Agents,Writing Conferences — justwritecat @ 7:03 pm
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Lately I’ve read a few tweets and blogs that address the issue of professionalism in our field.  Here are my thoughts, based on my recent attendance at the PNWA Conference in Seattle.

I’ll say right off the bat–I’m not a published author.  Yet.  Hey, you gotta stay optimistic.  I wrote my first novel this year.  I’ve revised twice, and polished once.  I’m working on the synopsis, then off it goes.  I mention this because I want to be clear I’ve no one-on-one experience working with literary agents or editors at publishing houses.  The experiences that I’ve had to date include meeting agents at this summer’s PNWA conference.  And those experiences resulted in three agents open to reading my manuscript.  One read the first page of my manuscript, then asked to read the first one hundred pages when it was complete (all were aware my manuscript was then a work-in-progress, though almost done).

If I follow the larger discussion on the difficulty in getting your foot through that first door (an agent), then it seems my experiences were incredibly positive.  And that maybe the things I did in preparation for and at the conference might be worth sharing.  So here goes…

I view being an aspiring writer akin to being a scout.  I’m female, so I was a girl scout-but the guys had it right, too.  The boy scout motto is easy – Be Prepared.  Girls-well, we like to talk a bit more, so the Girl Scout Law didn’t stop there.  In this blog, I’m going to reference some of the advice, specifically:

Be Prepared (Boy Scouts) and Be Courageous and Strong, Be Considerate and Use Resources Wisely (Girl Scouts)

How can we apply those things to the writing life?  To put it bluntly, how can we apply it to making the transition from writer to published author.  Or even just from writer to agented writer?

Examples:

About three weeks prior to the conference, I made the committment (to myself) to attend the query and ‘first-page’ workshops.  Basically the first involves handing in the query you want to send out to agents.  The second, you fork over the first page of your manuscript.  At both sessions, agents pick from those submitted and read out loud–and offer feedback.  Great opportunity, scary as hell.  Here’s what happened.

Query – I worked on my query for two solid weeks, paring and honing until my original two pages became slightly less than one.  One page.  I read books and posts on how to write queries, posted it online for feedback from a writing group, and read it out loud to get an idea of what it would sound like if picked by an agent at the workshop.  The advice given in those books – and especially, in literary agent blogs – is there for a reason.  Follow it.  This falls under Use Resources Wisely, and includes resources at any conference you attend.

Results – about forty to fifty queries were turned in, mine was one of four read out loud.  The moment I heard my first line read, I panicked.  Part of me wanted to run out, the other part was frozen to my chair.  This was it, time to know if I could follow directions (the books, the blogs) and if I had anything like what they refer to as ‘voice’.  I’d included a compliment to the agent in the second line of my query–something about enjoying the agent’s discussion at the query workshop.  I included it because I knew I wanted to query one of the agents at that workshop, and figured that was a way to let her know I’d been there and paid attention.

Okay, she didn’t like the line.  Said the writer had to get the brown off her nose.  A few people laughed, but then another agent said she liked a compliment and would want me to leave it in.  So, it depends.  Given I wanted to query the first agent, I made a note to get rid of that line.

She read the rest – and guess what, all four liked it!  I heard phrases like ‘this is the first one we read where  the writer’s voice came through’ and all four said the query resonated with them.  I wanted to float out of the room on the cloud that quickly gathered around me, but I decided to approach the agent I wanted to query.  I introduced myself, mentioned I’d handed in that last query and said while my work was not quite ready to send out, would she be open to reading it when it was.  She said yes.  And she was polite, friendly and even seemed happy to meet me. 

Which leads me to an aside – agents aren’t evil.  Agents aren’t mean.  Agents aren’t inhuman.  See, we read or hear such things and that myth keeps people from trying.  It scares writers, or at least it scared me.  Agents actually want us to achieve success.  They’re rooting for us!  So, remember that next time you approach one or send out a query or email. Yes, that suggestion goes back to Be Courageous and Be Considerate.

First Page Workshop – oh, this is the really good one.  Not because my first page was read and everyone in the room clapped.  Yeah, that never happens – does it?  In fact, my first page wasn’t read.  But that was okay, because of what did happen.

Note:  I worked on the first chapter for two weeks prior, concentrating on the first five pages.  I received feedback, made changes, read The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman–everything I knew how to do to get those first few pages tight and ready.  And what I learned in the process I applied to all the other pages as I finished the novel and did the revisions.  Time spent on improving your craft is never wasted.

Back to the workshop – one of the two agents present happened to be the one I had a scheduled pitch session with later that afternoon.  Nice how things work out sometimes.  After the workshop I approached her, introduced myself and mentioned we had an appointment later that day.  Then I asked the following:  “Would it be inappropriate of me to ask you to read the first page of my manuscript during our session, given it was not read at the workshop?”  She said that was fine and to bring it along.  Be Prepared.   And here’s another one – Be Courteous.

Results – Why am I making such a deal out of this? Well, first, an amazing agent was going to read my first page in a couple of hours.  But mainly, because I observed many other writers try to get an agent to read their first page.  They walked up after workshops, page in hand.  And each time, the agent didn’t take the page.  Agents would listen to a thirty second pitch, but none accepted one of the pages. 

Lesson – never assume, wait for the appropriate moment, and don’t push.

Yes, agents are there to meet writers.  And yes, agents are hoping to find their next client.  But agents also have to go on potty breaks or grab a bite to eat or take a sip of water or refuel with coffee.  And they also need time to be OFF during back to back sessions.  Let’s repeat:  Be Considerate.

I met with that agent and right off the bat, she asked for the page.  She read it, laughed at the right part (I hope, the timing seemed right) and we talked.  At first she said she didn’t represent the genre, but someone else at her office did.  The she reread it, and said she wanted me to send it to her.  She asked if it was complete. I said not quite.  Her response was great – in one breath she said she wasn’t going anywhere, but that I shouldn’t let the grass grow under my feet because you never know when the bottom will drop out under this genre (vampire, paranormal noir). 

We chatted another minute or so.  At one point she leaned back in her chair and just looked at me.  She said I didn’t seem nervous.  I said I’m always nervous when I’m about to give a lecture (I’ve taught at the college level), but somehow that nervousness leaves when I’m in the moment.  She asked if I had any questions, I responded with a no.  Then I thanked her for being so friendly and open.  I admitted I’d been nervous about approaching anyone or meeting with her, but that after hearing her talk at some of the workshops I felt she was approachable and funny and nice.  That seemed to touch her, she thanked me and I left the room.

Another aside – when you are presenting yourself at a conference, even if you have no intention of pitching to or talking with an agent–Dress the Part.  Just like interviewing for a job, you shouldn’t wear shorts or tops that leave nothing to the imagination.  You’re in the role of writer-looking-for-representation, not starlet-looking-for-porn work.  No flip-flops, even if it is summer.  There’s no beach inside the hotel, folks.  Use the conference as an excuse to get a manicure and/or pedicure and/or haircut if you can swing it.  I invested in a new outfit from Coldwater Creek.  Nothing too expensive, but still – it had that quasi-professional feel.  And if you don’t know how to dress (like me), most clothiers will give you advice (shout out to Coldwater Creek).

To read some helpful blogs on things to consider when attending a conference or meeting others in your field, check out 

 http://twitterurl.net//O10780 

http://twitterurl.net//O10781

 

Last part of being a scout – Be Strong.  And that means, don’t give up.  Keep writing!

 

You Need Help – Working with a Freelance Editor September 18, 2009

Filed under: Writing,You Can't Do It Alone — justwritecat @ 5:22 am
Tags: ,

So I’m writing this novel…

…and I figured I could use some help.

I completed the first draft of my novel this summer.   Two revisions later, and I figure it’s a good time to bring in a freelance editor.  Some might argue a freelance editor is unnecessary.  Write the best novel you can, then send out your queries.  Okay.  But I’m struggling with demons of insecurity – so I figure getting the eyes of a pro to take a look is not a bad thing.  This pro is an uber-helpful kind of gal.  Experienced, patient and just plain nice.  She edits by the page, or you can go for the first one hundred pages or the full deal.  I opted for the first two chapters for monetary reasons, though a further investment is still on the table.  I emailed the chapters, along with my query so she could get an idea of the plot.  Quick turnaround on the feedback–slightly over a week.  And her edits and feedback were more than helpful.  I learned a couple of things about those pesky grammar rules that cover topics such as when to use em dashes and that sort of thing.  Minor details, perhaps – but clearly ones I needed to learn. 

The overall experience:  She provided thoughts on my characters, writing style, voice, dialoge, pacing and tension/foreshadowing.  Per her comments, some areas were right on track, while others could use a tweak or two (tension, foreshadowing).  Sure, it was nice not to read my work was destined for the shredder, but what really helped were her line edits.  Suggestions on cutting out a word here or there, making things tighter and more POW-ish. (Yep, another made up word.  You can do that on your own blog, you know.  Give it a try, have some fun.)

The details:  She used the comments feature to make note of any changes, while she offered thoughts and suggestions within the text (in red).  And not just things that needed attention, but things that were good.  Funny, powerful, nice, great – words I liked to see.  When reviewing her comments, I kept an open mind and tried to look at things from a reader’s perspective.  Then, I opened my working draft and went through each edit, making changes along the way. 

There were a couple of sentences she either deleted or changed that I kept as is – which I felt was acceptable.  Suggestions are just that.  I may change my mind down the road – ahem, perhaps if/when an agent and another editor mirror the suggestion.  But for now, the lines/words stayed.  

One of my problem areas–and I knew it, but didn’t know how to fix it–using to be verbs.  Was, is–that sort of thing.  She pointed it out, made some changes–and now I am confident I can go through the rest of the manuscript and exorcise those weaklings.  Fortunately, passive voice didn’t creep in too much so the changes are do-able. 

Survey says:  If you can swing it, give a freelance editor a try.  Especially if the work in question is your first.  You can read all the books on writing you want, work on your craft and send our your chapters to a writing group or to a few friends.  But nothing quite compares to getting that set of experienced eyes looking at your work.  And after what you’ve put into your manuscript, why not take that extra step before sending it (or part of it) out to an agent?

 

It’s Print Worthy! (o.k. – just as a draft) September 9, 2009

Filed under: Baby Steps, Baby Steps,Write,Writing — justwritecat @ 3:59 am

Yeah, not really.  The first revision was done on screen – I knew the manuscript wasn’t ready to print.  It wasn’t print-worthy, I guess!  Second revision – I set the margins to 1″, put a fresh stack of paper in the printer, took a deep breath and hit print.  Then, I read it in three sittings – making notes as needed.  If I noticed a plot hole, I put a big circle in the margin.  A scribbled VOICE in the margins meant I’d slipped out of the voice of the character and needed to rewrite that part.  Anything underlined meant I could find a much better way of saying that specific sentence or paragraph.  And if something didn’t make sense, I made note of that, too.  Then I placed all my chapters on the table (see Revision Central) and went chapter by chapter, making changes.

Tomorrow I will change the line spacing to 1 1/2 , print and do another read.  This way it will look more like a book and less like a term paper!  I plan to read it in two sittings, again noting any changes that need to be made. 

What I’ve learned in the revision process thus far is that you never get things right the first time.  Or the second.  Or third – you get the idea.  At some point you really do have to stop revising long enough to send your work out for others to read  – and then once they give you feedback you can make more changes!  Another thing I learned – practice does make you better.  The second half of my manuscript required much less work than my first.  Proof – at least for me – that the more you write, the more you learn – and hopefully, the more you apply what you learn. 

Happy Writing!

 

Out of the Writing Closet September 8, 2009

Filed under: You Can't Do It Alone — justwritecat @ 3:58 am

Today I came out, from the writing closet, to my neighbors.  My family and I attended our first block party in our new neighborhood.  It was great to meet more neighbors, chat a bit about how the kids are growing up too fast and where the best place for food is around here (Portland won, hands down).  And when asked what I did, I took a deep breath and said – I’m a writer.  There, I did it.  And not a single person laughed.  While I did not really expect any kind neighbor to have that reaction, that little demon of insecurity told me they might.  Damn that obnoxious little guy, trying to foil my plans and thwart my dreams.  Damn him straight back to Hades – his petty taunts, too.

To have the confidence to pursue one’s dreams is something, to have the support of those around you is glorious indeed.  I’m not saying you cannot muster enough belief in yourself to make it, but when you tell someone you’re pursuing a dream – and they treat it as an attainable goal, it doesn’t hurt.

So surround yourself with well-wishers, find a few fellow writers who share that dream – and write.

 

Revision Central September 2, 2009

Filed under: Baby Steps, Baby Steps,Writing — justwritecat @ 5:13 pm
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I’ve set up a command central of sorts in a downstairs room.   I prefer to write in my office, but the room isn’t big enough for current purposes.  So this is what I’m doing…my hubby set up a large table so I can spread out my manuscript by chapter.  The editor I am working with suggested I send him a brief synopsis – just a couple of lines per chapter.  I’m in the process of doing just that – going chapter by chapter.  By having each chapter in its own little pile, I can get a birds eye view of the entire story.  See where the holes are…which is harder to do when  you are reading the entire manuscript in one sitting.  I’ve done a read-through of the manuscript, making notes in the margins/changing words/whatever else is needed.  I will go back and make the changes on the file later.

By working in another room I think I may get a different perspective – a change of scenery and what not – which is always helpful when doing revision work.  Plus, the doors are almost soundproof – another plus when you have two energetic boys running around.

The read-through proved incredibly helpful.  I found several spots where my voice slipped – or rather, the voice of my main character.  I would not have noticed that (obviously I didn’t when I wrote those parts) had I not printed out the manuscript and done a solid read-through.  Printing out 300 plus pages (I set the margins to 1″) was quite the experience.  I felt like I was back working on my Master’s, but this time I was enjoying the work – ha!

So today- setting up the chapters on the table and looking at the big picture, also working on a chapter by chapter synopsis for the editor.  This should also help when I work on the synopsis to send the agent.

Have a fantastic day…enjoy the remaining days of summer!