You always believed I would take the world by storm.
Awkward, meek little me, with oversize glasses and a notebook hugged against a skinny body.
You opened your arms and smiled, and after our bear hug, you tugged gently at the ears that were too big for my head. "You've got lucky elephant ears," you said.
"What does that mean?" I knew your answer by heart, but this was a ritual between us, you and I, and you happily obliged.
"It means that you're a very, very smart girl, and that you'll be very, very successful."
And you would pull out a bag of Werther's Originals, your favorite, and I would open a candy wrapper for you and you would open a candy wrapper for me and all would be right with the world.
You asked me about school over a box of Chips Ahoy - the chewy chocolate chip kind, my favorite - as I dunked cookies into milk until they broke apart, sinking to the bottom of the glass in a soggy, sugary sediment.
Whatever worries I confessed, you nodded your wise, gray head and promised that all would be well. I would get a A in math (no matter what Daddy said); that boy would like me (how could he not?); and that friend would invite me to her birthday party (even though she had left me out of the last one).
Of your seven beloved grandchildren, I was the only girl, the princess, the favorite.
Everything I did was perfect and right in your eyes. You laughed at everything I said, took my side against Mom, and bought me whatever I looked at.
Some men are born to be girls' dads and some are born to be boys' dads, and mine was the latter, too often absorbed in his sons to bother much with a lowly daughter. But to you, I was something special. You were the only one who bothered to look for the flame inside me, to cup your hands around its fragile light and protect it from the wind.
I told you I wanted to write books, and you never belittled or scolded or bent down the corners of your mouth, the way they all did. You just told me that I could do whatever I wanted, because I was your precious Elephant Ears and I was born into this world to be somebody.
You believed, even before I did, that those journals I scribbled in when I was supposed to be studying fractions would amount to something. You had exchanged wealth and consequence for a mere middle-class existence in this strange land across the sea, and damn it, you had done it for me, so that I could succeed.
Even now, when no phone or letter could ever reach you, still I think of you tugging my ears when I'm feeling low and it reminds me of our heart-to-hearts over cookies and milk. It reminds me that you always thought my dreams were worthwhile, and it gives me hope that you'd be proud of who I am today.
Whatever happens from here on out, I promise I'll keep tugging my lucky elephant ears in your honor.
Do you ever wonder why it's so much easier to doubt yourself than to believe you can do whatever you try? I wonder that. ALL THE TIME. I wonder that when I'm writing and thinking, This is garbage, isn't it? It is. I wonder that when I'm reading a book and thinking, I will NEVER be able to write like this.
Is it some kind of sick defense mechanism where, if you tell the universe ahead of time that you're going to fail, you'll feel like you covered the bases if said failure happens and then no one can accuse you of having false hopes and you can just shrug and say, "See? I told you so"?
The weird thing is that even with all that self-doubt, deep down, I really do believe that people can do whatever they want to do.
The key word there, of course, is WANT.
I hear people doubting themselves all around me, every single day. Not just friends and family and people I know, but strangers having conversations on the train, in a restaurant, passing by on the sidewalk.
I can't find a job. It's impossible.
You can't or you won't?
I can't take care of myself without him. I can't live alone.
You can't or you won't?
I can't write a good book.
I can't or I won't?
It's depressing, all of this negativity. Because there is ALWAYS a way to do something, if you really WANT to do it.
Here's a way I remind myself of that, every time I sit down at my computer:
Left row, top to bottom:
Soon you will be sitting on top of the world.
Good luck bestows upon you. You will get what your heart desires.
The secret of happiness is not in doing what one likes, but in liking what one does.
Right now you need to be patient.
Middle row, top to bottom:
IT only gets better when YOU get better.
Your present plans are going to succeed.
We create our fate every day we live.
When you have to make a choice and don't make it, that is in itself a choice.
All the effort you are making will ultimately pay off.
Yeah, I know that these are arbitrary little pieces of paper that aren't grammatically correct or even logical half the time. And I know they are written in such a way that anyone cracking open the cookie would be able to apply the fortune to their own situations.
But who's to say that saving these words, reading them, and thinking about them every day won't make me start to believe them?
And who's to say that that won't help me achieve what I want?
Well, folks... another NaNoWriMo has come and gone, and I am very happy to say that I made it through alive! Exhausted, but alive. Of course, this is setting the bar high because I am now two for two for November NaNos (I'm not counting August's Camp NaNo), so whenever I participate again, I will have to try to keep my record spotless!
I've been to a few author talks by now, and since they all took place in late summer/early fall, there was a lot of heated discussion about the virtues (or lack thereof) of NaNoWriMo. I was surprised to find out that many of the authors don't approve of its crazed 30-day madness. I'm all for anything that gets people to sit down and write, but this time around - sapped of energy, fingers aching, with a ghost of a book that may or may not have any character development - I'm starting to see where they come from.
Is it better to pound out 50K as fast as you can, just to have something down on the page, even if it's complete and utter crap? Or is it better to savor the process and have a more polished product, even if it takes you months or years?
After writing four-and-a-half novels, I've done both, and I have to say... I still don't really know.
But here is what I do know, and what two NaNoWriMos have taught me:
I need an outline.Hopelessly. Desperately. There is no way I can do NaNo without at least some plotting. If you made me pants it, I'd probably turn into Jack Nicholson in The Shining and just type "All pantsing and no plotting makes Julie crazy" until I hit 50K.
That being said, I need to leave the ending open. I only plot about 50% of a book before I write it, because even with a road map, things change. I need to be able to adapt the story should it decide to go in a different direction, and I can always continue plotting later.
I can't write every single day. Yes, I know that is the whole point of NaNoWriMo, but it's just not realistic for everyone who works full-time. Plus, writing 1,667 words is nothing. For me, that's barely half a chapter. When I sit down to write, I need to dive in and give it my full attention, and that means writing at least 3K.
There is no wrong way to write a book. (Unless you're not writing at all.) I won both NaNoWriMos by doing full-on weekend sprints. Both times, I felt so guilty when I didn't (or just couldn't) write as much on weekdays. But the technique works for me. I have 50K written, just like the people who did it the "right" way.
The idea needs to excite me. Duh, right? But inspiration helps me when my motivation flags... and it is guaranteed to flag at some point. I need to be writing something that I 100% love and believe in. It's much easier to write when I want to know what happens next.
I will never finish a rough draft in 50,000 words. Never. I am so ridiculously wordy (as anyone who has CP'd for me will tell you) and my first drafts are always full of word vomit. My past books ended on average around 80-85K, so that's what I'm aiming for with THREADS.
My end-of-the-year goals: 1) Finish THREADS (which has less than 30K to go!) and 2) start writing FOTL, my epic fantasy. I'm scared, but I know it will be a good learning experience in terms of world-building and writing an ensemble cast, two things I want to work on.
How are you guys doing? Did you do NaNoWriMo/NaNoRevisMo, and how did it go?
Hope all of you fellow Americans had a great Thanksgiving!
One of my favorite things about blog reading is learning about other people's writing processes. There are so many different ways to put an idea on paper and then transform it into a novel!
So how do my stories evolve from a twinkle in my eye to a fully formed book baby? (Well, when a writer and her story idea love each other very much...)
Just in time for my second ever NaNoWriMo, here's how I'm planning to turn my brand-new WIP into another completed manuscript:
Pick an idea. This is arguably the hardest step for me, but there's always one that shoves the others aside and hollers, "Pick meee! Pick MEEE!" And then it pops up in my dreams, waves its arms frantically when I hear a certain song or phrase, and generally makes itself too obnoxious to ignore.
Buy a new notebook. I apologize to all trees, but I have to have a fresh notebook for every new story. I prefer spiral (so I can stick a pen in), with a folder or two, and nice clean lines.
Write a short synopsis. When I was younger, I loved writing book jacket and movie summaries for my stories. Now, I use that as a pre-noveling tool to get a general idea of what my story will be about.
Make a cast of characters. I like it when books include a dramatis personae section, where you can see how each individual is related to another (i.e. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark; Gertrude, his mother; Claudius, his uncle). This is also where I name my characters, with a little help from my friend Google.
Do research. My NaNo project is based on Greek myth/legend, so I hit up the library for resources: history books, myth retellings, and a biography of Arthur Evans, the archaeologist who discovered the palace of Knossos. I take notes on things that I want to add or that might be pertinent to my book.
Make a chapter-by-chapter outline. I write a short, general description for each chapter that includes all of its major events. This is subject to change, of course, but it becomes a writing map that I rely on heavily, especially during time crunches like NaNo.
Decide on add-ins. I always have a page called "Add-Ins," which are events/characters that might not be crucial to the plot, but that will help with other stuff, like world-building. Eventually, as the story unfolds and I decide how closely it's sticking to the chapter outline, I'll write each of these on a post-it note and attach them wherever I plan to write them in.
Make a loose schedule. I don't do this for every story, but with NaNo, it's a necessity. I pick a projected final word count (also subject to change) and divide it by how much time I have to write. I set mini-goals and try to hit those to stay on track.
Write, write, write! Write until there's a rough draft! Usually, by the time I type "The End," I'm so sick of the story that I take a long break (1-2 weeks) before Round 1 of revisions.
Revise, send to CPs, revise, send to CPs... And rinse and repeat.
So there's my basic strategy. It might not be the easiest, and the planning stage alone can take weeks to months because, well, I need to work and have a life... but that's the technique that helped me write my three previous books!
What's your process like? Do any of these steps show up on your idea-to-book-baby journey?
P.S. This will be my final entry for a while as I gear up for NaNo. Feel free to spy on my progress here and to send me snippy tweets if I'm not meeting my quota. See you in December!
Whenever falls roll around, I get this urge to clean. It may seem strange, since cleaning is usually associated with the springtime (why is that, anyway?), but there's something about tidying up this time of year that really appeals to me. I guess getting neat and orderly is my way of preparing for another long, tough winter. And I don't mean just dusting or doing laundry, but also donating clothes I don't wear anymore, organizing the 148712859123 things I need to add to my scrapbook, and purging my computer of old links, files, and pictures.
Anyway, while I was busy doing this last type of cleaning, I came across a bookmark to an ancient LiveJournal account I had opened in college and had continued to update sporadically until 2010. Somehow, I remembered the password and logged in, and what started as giggling and banging my head on the desk over embarrassing entries turned into a rabbit hole of sorts. I tumbled down past memory after memory, and lost all track of time reading words I don't even really remember writing.
I'm sure most of us aspiring authors kept journals while growing up. I have two cardboard boxes filled to the brim with old diaries, almost every page covered front and back with writing. I'd say there are about 35 in all, and they would probably be a good representation of Barnes and Noble's catalog of notebooks and journals for the past twenty years. (Man, that makes me sound old!) I've been lugging these boxes around with me for years, so I guess it was only natural for me to progress to LiveJournal to save some trees (and my back).
Do you ever think about how our old selves live on in these diaries? Not in a Voldemort way, of course... but it's amazing how fast memories can come back, and how vivid they can be, when you read your entries. That's what happened to me this weekend. It started out as a simple task of changing passwords and organizing folders, and became an hour or two of reliving some of my best and worst memories.
I relived... the trip I took to Disney World with my childhood best friend in 2009, and how liberating it felt to laugh and feel carefree again.
I relived... my freshman year of college, possibly the darkest and loneliest time of my life, when I ended up with a horrible roommate who turned all my friends against me. Mean Girls is not just a movie, folks.
I relived... the cold winter day we put my dog down, when I went out barefoot to take a picture of the last paw prints she'd ever leave in the snow.
I relived... my very first trip to the city I now call home.
I relived... a really painful break-up, just before I moved to the city, and all of the letters I wrote him that I never wanted him to see, but needed to write for me. (Rereading these made me cry, and cry, and cry, and also understand what had happened better than I ever had before.)
I relived... our family vacation to Europe, the last one we all took together before the divorce, and how happy we were.
And best of all, I relived... the day I decided to write again (a decision that, ironically, started out with reading those 35 diaries I just mentioned).
Maybe I'm biased, but I don't think that photographs can ever really have this effect. They chronicle memories, too, but here's the thing - you can pretend to smile in a photograph, but you can't hide what you feel in your writing (at least, I never can). It all comes out. There's something about reading the writing of the person you once were that can bring you back to that year, that day, that hour, like nothing else.
And that's something else that photographs can't truly document... how we grow as people. The feelings we feel, and the thoughts we think, and the lessons we learn, and how they lead us to where we are now.
I don't really journal that much anymore, but I think the same effect applies to the stories that we write. I'll read a chapter or a paragraph that I've written, and shining through will be a memory or an experience that only I will connect to it. And I think about that piece of advice, the one that says that you can only truly write from the heart when you get out there and live.
Have you ever kept a journal? Do you ever go back and read the words you wrote, and do the memories appear in your writing when you least expect them to?
The title says it all: in less than one month, I will be doing NaNoWriMo for the first time in four years.
That's right. For some strange reason, I have not tried to write 50,000 words in 30 days since I "won" back in 2009!
November 2009: My first NaNoWriMo. I finished RICE FLOWER MEMOIRS.
November 2010: I was busy with a new job and with writing PPP. I had gotten agent interest earlier that year from my blog, and wanted to finish the book so I could submit.
November 2011: I was working on a revise-and-resubmit request for PPP, and had also just started planning/researching FOTL.
August 2012: I knew November would be a busy month, so I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo. It helped me write the first 35,000 words of ELEGY!
And now, here I am. It's early October. PPP is being queried. ELEGY is about to be, as well. And I'm twiddling my thumbs, unable to come up with an excuse not to do NaNo.
I have so many projects to work on. ANCHOR ISLAND and GARDENSPELL both have several chapters written, and then there's FOTL, still waiting in the wings, and SEAWALL, of which I have written exactly three and a half scenes.
That's why I felt guilty about pushing them all aside for this brand-new story, an idea that hit me earlier this year and is fresh and exciting and new. But it's calling my name and I can't ignore it, and I have to ride the wave of inspiration while it lasts. There's a good chance this story could be finished in November (or at least the majority of it will be written), and it's just too attractive an opportunity to pass up.
I'm not going to share too much about it at this time, besides what is already on my NaNoWriMo page (click here) and my Pinterest board (click here), but suffice it to say that I am REALLY excited!
My schedule can be crazy, so I won't kill myself trying to get to 50K. I think 25K is a good number and I'm sure I can beat it. The pressure is scary (even though it's just coming from myself), but I know that it will help me write and I can't pass up the chance to maybe get another book done this year!
Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Have you done it before and has it helped you?
The Insecure Writer's Support Group is a blogfest created by Alex J. Cavanaugh that takes place on the first Wednesday of each month. Think of it as a coffee shop full of writers talking about things that they've overcome, or still need to overcome.
Since you guys already know my situation from recent blog updates on the query trenches, I won't go into any more insecurities (although I've got plenty!).
Today I want to talk about an insecurity I've overcome.
Here's the thing about me: I strive hard for other people's approval. I care a lot about what others think. That's just the way I was raised. I don't think it's a coincidence that my strength/passion/goal center on a field that is almost entirely dependent on the approval of others: readers and reviewers, agents, editors. And that's fine... I think it's normal to want other people to like us, and to like our work.
But it's not good when that's the only thing that makes us feel validated. And that's what I've come to realize over the years. I can't let other people's approval be the one thing that defines my perception of success - because my own approval is just as important. Maybe even more so.
When I first started blogging, I had this toxic friend who would make mean-spirited comments about everything I wrote. It cut me deeply because I cared about them, and were our situations reversed, I would have been as supportive and encouraging as I could be. But I kept getting snarky, underhanded remarks, and after a while, the friendship obviously dissolved.
It was a long time before I could understand where this person was coming from. Sometimes a lack of approval has nothing to do with you, but with the person from whom you seek it. And taking a step back - and talking to a mutual friend who cared about us both - made me see the picture more clearly.
And you know what?
The honest truth is that I'm proud of my blog, even when it might seem cheesy, or corny, or irreverent, or silly... because it's 100% me. I don't have to front with you guys. I can just be myself. And I've learned to like myself, and my writing... and I've learned that that's okay to say.
I think we should all tell ourselves that more often. You are a good writer. You are worthy. You are enough.
I recently attended my FIRST writing event ever! I've never been to one in real life, so when I heard about this session on writing/publishing with a bestselling author, I jumped at the opportunity and registered to hear him talk. Best decision I could have made!
His name is Hugh Howey and he wrote the fantastic WOOL series. If you haven't heard of these books, you need to get to a store or library ASAP, because they are truly awesome. I made sure to read the first novel before I went to see him, and now I'm inhaling the next book. And you know post-apocalyptic is not my usual cup of tea!
Because Hugh got his start in self-publishing, the talk was very much in favor of that path of publication. WOOL was once a short story that he self-published on Amazon, and after much reader acclaim, he turned it into a novel that went on to become a New York Times bestseller. He's got an agent and a publisher now, after the fact, but he kick-started the process himself.
He was both cool and funny, and extremely well-spoken about his experiences in the industry. I'm pretty sure I was not the only aspiring author in the room who began to waver from the idea of traditional publication, after hearing the passionate and positive way he talked about self-publishing and the freedom and self-assurance that come with it.
I was so busy taking notes the whole time that whenever I had a question, someone else would ask it before I could muster the courage to raise my hand. (Fine by me, as I am petrified of public speaking, even if it's just to ask something for 5 seconds and have every single person in the room looking at me. *hunches in seat*)
Anyway, these were some of the awesome tips I jotted down:
On the Writing Process
Join a writing group. He described the very well-organized, professional-sounding group that he had been a part of (they had a president! and a treasurer! and dues, so they could buy refreshments!), but it doesn't have to be that intense. Just write with other people, because it's a great learning opportunity.
Write for readers. Don't write for agents; don't write for publishers. Think about the actual people who are going to be reading/buying your book, because they matter the most.
To be a good writer, you need to read. Everyone knows that... but Hugh stressed that you shouldn't only be reading for pleasure. You should also be paying attention to craft. You can write a dozen books, but if you don't read, you will never grow as a writer. He recommended "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" and Stephen King's "On Writing." (Speaking of which, I really need to read King's book; it seems like everyone recommends it!)
To be a good writer, you need to live. He said that MFAs and writing programs can only teach you so much. A truly well-rounded writer is one who gets out there and lives life, has adventures, falls in love, gets their heart broken, travels, and - most importantly - talks to strangers.
If you're a plotter, write for the reader who will read your book twice. Hugh said he's a hardcore plotter (woo-hoo! plotters represeeeent) and that he could be writing Book 1, but already know what will happen in Books 4 and 5. He likes outlining because you can stick in foreshadowing and Easter eggs that repeat readers can have fun picking out.
Six CPs is the perfect number. Too many CPs is not good, as you'll get pulled into too many directions. He also advised us to stagger our submissions. Send out to 2-3 CPs, incorporate their edits, revise, and then send out to 2-3 more. That way, people aren't all reading the rough draft and wasting time picking out the same mistakes.
If you're self-publishing, write a lot of shorter pieces instead of one giant novel. He said that this would be 1) easier, 2) more practice, 3) help you build up readership, and 4) allow readers to finish faster so that they can review and spread the word faster.
Enjoy your anonymity.I loved that he brought this up. He said that he misses the days when he could just write and not worry about deadlines and tours. Appreciate what you have now and don't lose sight of it.
Tell yourself your 10th book will be a bestseller; not your debut. He compared this to being an athlete and said that it's not likely you'll make MVP your first time on the field. He said that each book is like a lottery ticket; the more you write, the more you expand your opportunities. He also suggested writing different lengths and different genres. (This tip made me really happy because, as you guys remember, I worried a while back whether jumping around genre-wise was a good idea.)
Don't be in it for the money. He repeated this so many times that I could tell it was an extremely important point he hoped to pass on. "Dream, but don't expect" were his very words.
Self-publishing vs. traditional, and how writing is like a painting. Hugh compared a book to a painting, and explored this metaphor down the paths of traditional and self-publication.On the traditional path, a writer can make the sketch, but someone else will paint it onto a canvas, someone else will decide what frame to put the canvas in, and someone else will decide what to call it. Self-publishing can give the writer a lot more control, creativity, and freedom.
All writing is practice... even crap. Especially crap! Never underestimate the crap.
Tearing down other writers is tearing down yourself. His exact words were, "That's just crazy talk!" He warned us not to hate on people who've had an easier time (like the ones who get an agent on their second query letter, or a movie deal and tons of money right out of the gate, etc.) and not to judge writers - especially self-published ones - whose books aren't perfect. They are out there making art, and that's the most important thing. Someone else's success (or failure) takes nothing away from you; don't wallow or revel in it.
I really wish I could have talked to him afterward (and that I'd brought my copy of WOOL for him to sign), but he was swarmed by everyone else so I just left and tried to absorb everything he'd said.
The session really gave me a new perspective on self-publishing. When I first started to get into serious writing, I (very ignorantly and stupidly) thought that the only people who self-published were the ones who could not cut it on the traditional path. And that's just a very self-limiting, close-minded way to think. I'm glad that my years of being part of the blog community have shown me how much incredible talent there is out there, regardless of publication style - self, traditional, small press/big press, agent or not, etc. - and that I learned so much from this event.
It's way too early to make hard and fast decisions (and my heart still tells me that I want to be traditionally published, because I want to focus on the writing itself and leave the design/heavy marketing stuff to the pros), but I am happy to know that there are so many roads I can take.
So what do you think about Hugh's advice? What's your opinion on self-publishing vs. traditional?
And what would you think if - one day down the road - I ever released PPP as an e-book, since so many of you have asked to read it? :) :)
Good news: the first 100 pages of ELEGY are now in real, live agent hands! *collapses* The query letter did its job back at the WriteOnCon forums, so now I just have to hope that this partial does its job. It's a substantial chunk, about 70-75% of my entire book, so all crossable limbs are crossed that the full manuscript will one day be requested!
Thank you a million times to Marisa, Don and Kim, Nancy, and Margo! *blimp-sized hug* They did quick readthroughs of not only my rough draft, but also the revision... not an easy feat, since I added a ton of new scenes and dialogue. It really does take a village to write a book, and no matter what happens, I'll be forever grateful for their help in making ELEGY the best it can be.
I'm so proud of how far this story has come. It was once just a small idea, but now it's a full-fledged novel with characters that I care more about every day. It also stretched my writing comfort zone a LOT, since 1) I've never written a ghost story before and 2) I've never written such completely flawed people... who I then chucked headfirst into a high-pressure environment - a performing arts school inspired by New York City's Juilliard - where their jealousy, competitive natures, and loyalty are all put to the test. (All the while cackling evilly, of course.)
My enthusiasm for ELEGY is my security blanket right now, because August was a month of major setbacks. I didn't get a writing fellowship that I had applied to and had been very excited about. And then a wonderful agent with whom I've been communicating for three years (and someone who I would have loved - and would still love, if I'm ever so lucky - to work with) finally passed on PPP.
I know rejection is the name of the game when you're a writer. But this stuff still hurts. It feels like sending up hopeful balloons and watching them all get stuck in trees or burst by pine needles. I've lost count of how many stars I've wished on, and how many birthday candles I've blown out, and how many tunnels I've driven through while holding my breath.
I just have to hold on to that saying: "When one door closes, another opens." I'm going to try to open as many new doors as I can, no matter how many slam shut. I will write more books, and revise them, and send out queries, and enter contests. I'm going to find those doors and keep them open, no matter what... even if I have to jam my foot in.
Self-publishing is another door that I am more tempted to open than I have ever been before, thanks to a FANTASTIC author talk that I just attended. I will be blogging about everything I learned very soon, so stay tuned for that post!
Right now, I've got a shiny querying spreadsheet for ELEGY, a whole new list of people to submit to, and someone who is very kindly giving the story a chance.
Just keep moving forward, right?
How are you doing? What are some doors that have opened for you?
(I am still madly revising, but the home stretch is in sight and I have an ELEGY update coming soon.)
I hereby interrupt this blog break to share details about an exciting book release! The latest installment of Alex J. Cavanaugh's bestselling space opera is out TODAY. Alex is one of my favorite blog buddies and has been there for me since way back when. It is an honor and a pleasure to help spread the word about his phenomenal series!
By Alex J Cavanaugh
From the Amazon Best Selling Series!
A storm gathers across the galaxy…
Commanding the Cassan base on Tgren, Byron thought he’d put the days of battle behind him. As a galaxy-wide war encroaches upon the desert planet, Byron’s ideal life is threatened and he’s caught between the Tgrens and the Cassans.
After enemy ships attack the desert planet, Byron discovers another battle within his own family. The declaration of war between all ten races triggers nightmares in his son, threatening to destroy the boy’s mind.
Meanwhile the ancient alien ship is transmitting a code that might signal the end of all life in the galaxy. And the mysterious probe that almost destroyed Tgren twenty years ago could return. As his world begins to crumble, Byron suspects a connection. The storm is about to break, and Byron is caught in the middle…
“CassaStorm is a touching and mesmerizing space opera full of action and emotion with strong characters and a cosmic mystery.” – Edi’s Book Lighhouse
"Cavanaugh makes world building on the galactic scale look easy. The stakes affect the entire known universe and yet Cavanaugh makes it intensely personal for our hero. The final installment of this series will break your heart and put it back together." - Charity Bradford, science fantasy author of The Magic Wakes
Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design and graphics. He is experienced in technical editing and worked with an adult literacy program for several years. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The author of the Amazon bestsellers, CassaStar and CassaFire, he lives in the Carolinas with his wife.
This year was my second year at WriteOnCon, the online writers' conference that takes place every August! I can't recommend it enough. The people who run it are fabulous and the forums are just oozing with talent. You know those dreams where you're in a bookstore, buying lots of awesome books, and then you wake up and realize they're not on your shelf? (No? Just me?) That's kind of how I feel when I read the phenomenal queries and pages that people post, because I desperately want those stories on my bookcase, RIGHT NOW.
I haven't had a chance to take part in the live forum events this time around (I did the Twitter pitch last year and got some feedback on PPP from an Entangled Publishing editor... very cool stuff!).
Mostly I've been bumming around the critique forums, where the ninja agents have been prowling since yesterday. I posted the query letter and the first 250 words of ELEGY into the YA section, hardly daring to hope that any ninjas would show up. (They didn't last year for PPP, although I practically had an aneurysm every time I saw them visiting a buddy!)
I got a ton of fantastic suggestions that really helped me tighten up the query. People advised me to take out wishy-washy words so the letter would sound surer of itself; pointed out repetitions; made comments on how to improve the flow; and gave me a ton to think about in terms of how I want to convey the characters' motivations and voice.
And then this happened:
If you heard a squeal-scream sometime around 5 PM Eastern time yesterday, echoing through the mountains, rivers, and valleys, that was probably me.
I got some more great feedback from other writers and some kind, lovely, encouraging words, and then I went to bed (and dreamed about revising all night. The worst part about those dreams is that you wake up and the revisions aren't done).
And then I woke up to some private messages in my inbox and also this:
Guys, my heart stopped beating. I had to close my eyes and remind myself to breathe, so I wouldn't pass out, and then I freaked out because ELEGY is still just a WIP and has such a long, long way to go. And then I frantically called and texted and emailed all of my poor, poor CPs who have read this book, who gently calmed me down, told me it would be okay, and to get my ass in gear and start revising.
So that's just a long-winded way of saying that I need to take a break and focus on this book, and I'll be away from the blog for a little while, until it's in decent form. (Jesus. My heart is still beating so fast as I type this.)
Back soon with a full report on how revisions went! Thank you to everyone who stopped by to critique my query and pages! *fist-bump*
The critiques have been rolling in for ELEGY this week, and now all I want to do is drop everything and revise it! They were that fantastic - full of brilliant suggestions, gentle hints that some things weren't working, and sharp character analyses that made me say "Wow!" several times. I printed every email, taped them into my notebook, and scribbled down ideas on how to work in the advice: adding a chapter here, weaving in a scene there, etc.
Now, I hadn't looked at ELEGY since I finished it back in March and did a few brief edits in May. I hadn't even opened the Word document. I just typed "The End" and started sporadically shooting out the manuscript when the mood struck: first to my CP, then to three friends, and finally a couple of blog buddies who had shown interest in beta-reading it. And then I put ELEGY into a folder on my desktop and "forgot" about it.
But now it's all I can think about, after reading the critiques I got so far. I wouldn't say that I'm more excited about revising this than I was about PPP... it's just that I worked on PPP for so long that the excitement was more spread out.
I try to be a good "parent" to all of my books - I try not to love any of my "kids" more than the others - but I do love them in different ways, and ELEGY is giving me a feeling that I'm not sure I fully had with PPP. That's not to say that PPP hasn't done well, or that I would ever, ever give up on it, but I just feel more confident about ELEGY. I feel good. I feel like I'm becoming a stronger writer, and that it's not so hard to figure out how to use feedback to make the story better on my own terms, with my own style.
I sat down last night to read ELEGY in its entirety for the first time and felt so proud of it. Like, I know that in its current state, it's a hot mess, and there is a truckload of revisions to be done - but I love this book so damn much. I can't wait to flesh out the characters, add more detail to this world, and structure chapters so that everything flows more smoothly. It's all there in my head, just waiting to come out!
I'm busy all weekend, but I'm hoping to have at least a few hours on Sunday to get my notes together, whip the first few pages into shape, and write a query letter in preparation for WriteOnCon! ELEGY is nowhere near querying status, but I figured it might be fun and good practice. When the links go up, I'll make sure to post them here so anyone who's interested can hop over and critique!
That's it for now! Have a great weekend, everybody!
I love Wednesdays in the blog world because so many friends participate in the What's Up Wednesday fest. It's fun to see what people are reading, writing, and thinking, so I thought I'd do my own version today!
This is truly a wonder of a book and I think it deserves all of the praise it's been given. I laughed and cried and wanted more. August's voice is phenomenal and I loved his protective big sister, Via.
I finished the entire book in one sitting! The problem with ensemble casts, though, is that some characters have to necessarily be less well-developed than others. I thought Meg, the MC, was very well-written.
I LOVE Greek mythology and I have a feeling I'm going to really like this book. I've always loved minor characters and I'm rooting for Patroclus already!
WHAT I'M WRITING
GARDENSPELL: I've been working on this for a couple weeks, and I'm really enjoying it! Like PPP, it's an upper MG fairy tale, but I want it to be more traditional, like wishing wells-ogres-and-seven-league-boots traditional. I'm about four chapters in and going strong!
FOTL: This is still in the planning stage, but I'm constantly scribbling down random snippets. I'll have to share pictures of my FOTL binder, which has dozens and dozens of pages of notes. Let's just hope I never lose it!
ELEGY: I sent this out to two more beta readers. I'm limiting readers for now because it's still such a rough draft, but I hope I'll get many more pairs of eyes on it eventually. I might whip up the query and first pages to post at WriteOnCon. (My palms are getting sweaty just thinking about it!)
WHAT I'M LISTENING TO
Caro Emerald's album "Deleted Scenes From the Cutting Room Floor." I need to throw a Roaring 20s party to this music!
WHAT I'M WATCHING
We went to see "Despicable Me 2" a few weeks ago, and it was hi-lar-ious. I laughed so hard my sides hurt, and am thinking about installing an Indiana Jones-type obstacle where you have to do a dance sequence on musical squares before you can enter my writing office. (I'm sure that makes absolutely no sense if you haven't seen the movie.) Also, I need a chip hat filled with guacamole.
LATEST QUOTE “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.” - J.D. Salinger
I've been beta-reading and what's great about that is that you CAN call the author up on the phone (or email them) when you want to chat!
I've been working on GARDENSPELL for the past two weeks, which has been really fun because of all the research I get to do. And by research, I mean read lots and lots of fairy tales, folk tales, and fables. The other night, I cracked open a huge fairy tale volume I'd gotten as a gift and hadn't had a chance to read yet.
When it comes to the original Grimms, no matter how many versions you've read or how many times you've read them, they can be a little tough to stomach. My first thought was: "Cool, these are the really old versions of fairy tales." My next thought was: "He cut off her WHAT!?" And then: "She ate WHOM?!" And finally just: "..."
I made a list of some of the juiciest ones (for fun, not for inspiration, of course. I don't think an upper MG novel with murder, cannibalism, and incest will fly these days... just a gut feeling).
Here are a few examples:
The Juniper Tree
Once upon a time, a woman makes a wish under a juniper tree that she'll have a baby "as red as blood and as white as snow." Despite the fact that this is a recipe for one freaky-looking kid, she eventually gives birth to a handsome son, but dies shortly afterward and is buried under the tree.
Years later, the husband remarries. His new wife adores her own daughter, Marjory, but hates her stepson. So, in the great tradition of every Grimm stepmother, she decides to end him. When he reaches into the trunk for an apple (because who doesn't keep fresh produce in a trunk?), she slams the lid and decapitates him, then ties the head back on and props the body on the porch.
When Marjory tries to talk to her brother and he doesn't respond, she boxes his ear. The head rolls off and she freaks out because she thinks she killed him. She and her mom agree to keep it a secret from the father.
Dad comes home and is told that the boy has gone to visit his uncle. The stepmother cooks up a delicious meat stew, and Dad remarks that it's the best he's ever tasted. (Yep... she totally went all Sweeney Todd on the corpse.)
Meanwhile, Marjory is still feeling pretty crappy about her brother's death. She buries his bones under the juniper tree, and the next day, a strange bird appears and sings a song about what a jerk its stepmother is. Three people are moved by the "beautiful" song: a goldsmith, who gives the bird a gold chain; a shoemaker, who gives it red shoes; and a miller, who gives it a millstone.
The bird sings the song again right outside of Marjory's house. When the father comes out to listen, he is given the golden chain; when Marjory comes out, she gets the shoes; and when the stepmother comes out, the bird drops the millstone on her head and kills her. Then the brother miraculously reappears, and he, his father, and Marjory all go inside for dinner. One big happy family, y'all!
Once upon a time, there was this creepy old man who kidnapped young women. He would dress up as a beggar, knock on the door, and carry off any girl who answered it.
One day, he sets his sights on a house with three young and beautiful daughters. He kidnaps the eldest and brings her to his castle, where he leaves her with two warnings: don't go into a certain room, and keep a random egg safe.
Now this is the point in the story where the girl should get the hell out. But no, she immediately goes into the forbidden room and finds a huge, bloody basin filled with hacked-off female body parts. In her shock, she drops the egg (because the best way to keep it safe is to carry it around in your sweaty palms, obviously) and she can't wash the blood off it no matter what she does.
When the old man comes home, he butchers her. Then he returns to her house, carries off the second sister, and the same thing happens.
When it's the youngest sister's turn, she wisely puts the egg in a safe place before she enters the forbidden room. She finds her sisters' body parts, nonchalantly puts them back together, and they return to life (!?!). She tells them to hide inside a basket and covers the top with gold.
The old man comes home, all ready to marry her because she passed the test, but she tells him to first bring the basket of gold to her parents' house. While he's doing this, she takes a skull (from the one of the other victims in the forbidden room, maybe?), dresses it up, and puts it in the window. She then rolls in honey and feathers so she looks like a giant bird, and heads home.
Along the way, she runs into the people who are coming to her wedding with the old man. They call her "Fitcher's bird" (which is never explained), and she tells them that the bride is at the house preparing the wedding feast.
When the old man and the wedding guests go inside, thinking that the skull is the bride grinning down at them, her relatives barricade the doors and burn the house down, and everyone dies. The end.
The Maiden With the Rose On Her Forehead
Once upon a time, a prince and his sister liked each other. A lot. When he went away to war, he asked the princess to look after his rose garden. Several months passed, and she gave birth to a little girl (?!?). However, she was ashamed of her (probably because she was also her niece - very V.C. Andrews) and also because the girl had been born with a rose on her forehead. The princess raised her secretly, made her wear a hood to hide the rose, and warned her never to let anyone at school find out who she was.
The prince eventually came back and visited the school, bringing a present of cherries. The little girls got so excited that they started flinging around the cherry pits, and one of them got stuck under the rose girl's hood. When she came home, the princess found the pit and flipped out, thinking the child had removed the hood and revealed herself. So she kills her daughter, hides the body in an iron chest, and locks the chest in a secret room (not overreacting at all).
Unlike most of the Grimm villainesses, the princess is tormented by grief. Just before she dies of guilt, she makes her brother promise never to enter the secret room.
The prince keeps his promise, gets married, and tells his new wife not to enter the secret room. But she does, and when she opens the iron chest, she finds a beautiful young woman sitting inside. Jealous that the prince is keeping this girl for his amusement, she burns her all over with a hot iron and makes her work as a servant.
But the girl has a habit of talking to inanimate objects, and confesses her whole story to the bedpost while the prince eavesdrops outside her door. Furious, he orders his wife to be burned with a hot iron, kicks her out, and lives happily ever after with his daughter/niece.
What are some of the craziest, creepiest fairy tales you've read or heard of?
Has it really been over two months since I posted any write music? It's CRAZY how fast this year is flying by! I mean, I'm glad that summer will be over before long (I *hate* heat and I hate sweating profusely while standing/sitting still), but I don't like that 2013's already more than halfway done. At least I've been fairly productive with outlining, writing, and querying, so all is not lost.
Today I want to share something that, for me, stands out from the 436089124 other movie songs in my iTunes library (rough estimate, though probably more accurate than not) because it was one of my dog's favorites.
I don't know about other dogs, but my golden retriever loved classical/instrumental music with a passion.
I would come home from school and listen to music while I did my homework at the dinner table, and she would be there, curled like a big yellow comma around my chair.
Every time I practiced my violin in the living room, she would appear at my feet in a flash and lie there contentedly, listening. (Even when I played horribly. She was my biggest (*cough* my only) fan.
And whenever someone sat down at the piano and began playing, she'd materialize from her doggie bed in the den for a front-row seat. Piano music was her favorite, especially the adagio from Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 (which also happens to be my favorite music in the world). What can I say? She was a classy canine!
Here's a song from the Hana-Bi soundtrack, composed by Joe Hisaishi (yet another movie I have not seen, let alone heard of before I came across the music). I listened to it quite a lot when I was drafting RICE FLOWER MEMOIRS back in 2009, and now I can't hear it without thinking about certain bittersweet scenes in that book.
Hope you like it! And tell me - if you have animals, do they enjoy music?
One of my best friends has a beautiful little girl who LOVES to read. When I flew to Louisiana to visit them in May, she was in my lap within hours of my arrival, handing me a stack of storybooks. "Li-Li," she'd say (her name for me, since "Julie" is too hard), and point to the book she wanted me to read aloud. Then she'd nestle against me, listen contentedly, and even turn the pages when I asked her to.
She prefers her books over every other toy, and even has a couple to "read" in the car. It was so funny to see her buckled into her car seat in the back, flipping the pages by herself (and holding the books perfectly upright). A child after my own heart!
She is turning two very soon, so of course I'm sending her books for her birthday. Looking through the kids' section at Barnes and Noble is so much fun. I like seeing all of the new stories that have been written, but my favorite thing is coming across books that I love and remember from my own childhood.
If I could put together a package of books to be sent to any book-loving kiddo, it would include:
SARAH'S LION by Margaret Greaves
Scholastic book fairs were the highlight of my school years. I loved getting those fliers and checking off the books I wanted, then heading to the fair to pick them up. I got SARAH'S LION at one and it was always one of my favorites. The illustrations are magnificent, and the story even more so.
Sarah, a free spirit who longs for adventure, is always told that this isn't proper for a princess. But when a mysterious lion appears in her room, she begins to gain the courage to break free. The tale is wistful, strange, and a little bit sad, and I love that it celebrates being an individual and following your dreams.
The Macmillan Book of 366 Bedtime Stories retold by Gianni Padoan
I got a copy of this when I was 5-6, and I STILL have it. The cover has fallen off, some of the pages are missing, and there are Cheeto-stained fingerprints on the retelling of The Ugly Duckling (thanks to my brother, who did not worship books the way I did)... but it's still with me.
There are 366 stories because there's one for every day of the year, plus an extra for leap years. I remember being upset because the story for September 5, my birthday, kinda sucked, but I read and was read to from this volume for years and years. Story collections for kids are fantastic because it's like having dozens (or hundreds, in this case!) of books in one.
THE STORY OF HOLLY AND IVY by Rumer Godden
This is a clearly a Christmas book, but I read it all year round. The first line is: "This is a story about wishing." Ivy is an orphan who wishes for a family; Holly is a doll who wishes for a little girl to bring her to life; and the Joneses are a couple who wish for a child.
THE MOON LADY by Amy Tan
You might recognize this story if you've ever read Tan's THE JOY LUCK CLUB - it's one of the anecdotes told by her character Ying-Ying. I read this children's version of it long before I ever read that novel and loved it. The illustrations are fantastic!
* * *
What books did you love in your childhood? Any suggestions or must-haves I should add to my little niece's gift package?
So this is the house that I'm thinking of buying as a summer writing retreat. Thoughts?
It has an okay lawn, I guess. I mean, it could be a little bit bigger, but you know me... I'm down-to-earth. I don't mind reducing the number of Thoroughbreds in my stables to just 12, to make sure there's room.
The view isn't half bad, either. But do you think the deck is big enough for a grill and an umbrella table? I have my doubts.
Here's what the driveway looks like.
The neighbors are kind of close for my taste, but at the price I'm paying for this property, I guess I can deal with it.
See that small building to the right in the photo below? I think that will do nicely for the servants. They can sneak in and clean when I'm sleeping. That way, they don't bother me when I'm writing.
I must speak to the gardener about these hydrangeas. I thought I specified that I wanted only purple ones. What a disaster.
I've been considering the property next door as well, but it's just so small. I don't know if I'll have room to think.
And it's inspired by the Petit Trianon, which is soooo 1760s. *yawn*
BUT, it does have this Chinese pagoda in the backyard that I could write in, so that's a bonus.
And it's a nice nod to the motherland.
*wakes up from dream*
*checks bank account*
Whoops, guess I'm a few million dollars short of the down payment!
This weekend, I took a little trip to Newport, Rhode Island to see the summer "cottages" on Bellevue Avenue. They were every bit as beautiful and amazing as I had hoped!
I took the first five pictures at the Breakers, which is probably the most famous house there. It was built by railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt II as a summer vacation home. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take photos indoors, or I would have included snapshots of the gorgeous music room and the grand staircase that people used to slide down at parties! The Vanderbilts sure knew how to have a good time.
The last three pictures are of Marble House and its Chinese Tea House, which are right next door and were owned by Alva Vanderbilt. I think I like the Breakers better, because even with the cool pagoda and the beautiful French-style main building, Marble House had some mad creepy rooms. The kitchen was cool, though, and we got to see some of Alva Vanderbilt's china with the inscription "Votes for Women" painted on each piece for all of the suffrage events she held.
Learning more about these gorgeous homes - and a little bit about the way people lived within them - has given me some great ideas for ANCHOR ISLAND and some story nuggets for the future!
Have you done any fun on-location writing "research" this summer?
If you've been around the blog circuit for a while, you've most likely heard of DL Hammons' annual WRiTE Club competition. I can't believe it's going on three years already! I participated in the first two contests as an anonymous writer and helped out with hosting in 2012, so this year, when DL asked me to be one of the 10 judges on the preliminary panel, I said "yes" right away.
Not only do I love this contest and what it stands for - honest feedback, exposure, and support - but I also thought that judging would be a great opportunity to hop onto the other side of the fence and improve my critique skills.
One of the other judges said that it gave them a feel for what it might be like to be an agent reading through the slush pile. I totally agree. Wading through the pool of submissions to choose just 32 was NOT easy. Granted, we were making selections based solely on personal taste and didn't take into account other things that a real agent might, like market potential, age group, etc. But still, it was tough.
You all know that I'm type A, obsessively plot out all of my stories, and keep a color-coded querying spreadsheet, so it won't surprise you that I also had a way to organize my WRiTE Club picks.
Here's how it went down.
COLUMN #1: Top Picks
All of these entries had:
1) Solid spelling, grammar, and formatting. Good grammar and spelling score major points with me every time. Plus, I figure that since there are only 32 slots, the people who get them should care about their writing, and those who care about their writing will proofread.
2) A story that makes me want to read more. I think reading should be like eating candy. I should want to keep reaching in for more ("Just one more page! Just ONE! I swear!"), not shrug and remind myself not to buy that brand again.
3) Tight, effortless writing. Writing that impresses me most is more than just technically solid and hook-y. It should flow well and seem almost effortless. When I read a book, I want to sit back and enjoy the story, not figure out how two sentences connect or whether a metaphor makes sense.
COLUMN #2: Alternates
These entries were good, but didn't grab me and/or were missing at least one of the things listed above. I considered them as alternates that I could pull from if I didn't have 32 top picks.
COLUMN #3: Not for me
If I were an agent going through my slush pile, these would be my immediate form rejections. Either they were missing the things I listed or I just didn't like/connect with the story.
Earlier this week, DL compiled all of the judges' votes and presented a list of the top 32 entries that received the highest votes. How did it compare against my private spreadsheet?
- 22 of my top picks made it in
- 7 alternates made it in
- 3 immediate form rejections made it in
It all boils down to subjectivity. Obviously I was in the minority with those 10 entries I labeled as alternates or "not for me," because if they made it in, they got votes from most of the other judges. What I considered "not for me" might have been another judge's top pick, and vice versa.
What I'm taking from this experience: keep writing. Keep improving. Never stop trying to get better. And while swimming through all of the responses that say "not for me," work my tail off until I get the response that says "your story's my top pick."
If you were an agent, what are some of the things that would make a submission your top pick? What would make it an immediate form rejection?
Happy Wednesday! (Or, if you have a long weekend like me, happy "Friday"!)
I've been hard at work on my new WIPs! My current schedule is: outline on weeknights, write on the weekends. This works well for me because 1) I outline with pen and paper, so it's a nice break from the computer during the week; 2) I write more efficiently on the weekends, when I'm not out of the house for 12 hours and have to squeeze in writing with, you know, showering and eating in the spare hours I have before bed; and 3) I'm doing something related to creative writing every single day, in line with my goal to make it more of a priority.
Best of all, when I do sit down to write on a quiet weekend morning, I'm on autopilot. I know exactly what chapter I'm working on and what I want to include, so I just open up the Word document and go.
I hit my 5,000 word goal for ANCHOR ISLAND last weekend! I've never written a straight-up contemporary before; there is always some element of fantasy or magic in my stories, so it's definitely a new experience. I've noticed how much attention I have to pay to characterization. That's not to say that I don't with my other books, but there's no gritty world-building or supernatural conflict in ANCHOR ISLAND. No one is dealing with fairy godmothers or haunted violins. The focus is 100% on the real-people characters and their real-people issues.
I got to squeeze in some non-writing fun, too! I went to see "The Bling Ring" and thought it was entertaining, but frustrating. If you haven't heard about it, it's based on the true story of very privileged, very bored teens who robbed celebrity homes. Apparently, famous people have utter crap for security systems, because these brats got away with it for a LONG time. (They looted Paris Hilton's house on multiple occasions!) But I love Sofia Coppola's movies - the colors, the music, the camera shots. Seeing this made me want to rewatch "Marie Antoinette" in all its frilly glory.
I've got plans for the Fourth, so it'll be sun + pool + barbecue all day, but this long weekend is all about writing. Friday will be my day to organize my notes for FOTL and start cranking out the chapter plans. It was supposed to be my next main project after PPP and ELEGY! I'm excited, but apprehensive - epic fantasy takes a lot of organization and world-building - but I guess I'll find out whether I can handle it or not!
I've been writing seriously for five years, and querying for two of those. To people who don't know about the business, this may seem like a REALLY LONG time. I constantly get questions from family members and acquaintances about why I still haven't found an agent.
That's why I'm glad that my writing peeps understand that five years... actually isn't long at all. Because during that time, I've been working on becoming a better writer. I've been learning my craft and figuring out how to critique and be critiqued. I've been reading everything I can get my grubby little hands on about query letters, synopses, researching agents, publishing contracts, and even book marketing.
When I do eventually get there, because I'm determined to, I want to be able to look back and remember/appreciate all of the hard work I put in. Things like this should never be easy; they should never happen overnight. (Although they sometimes are, and do, and to those people, I say: *blows raspberry*)
So if you're wondering why it's taking so long (and feeling insecure about it), think instead about what you've accomplished during that time. Make a list. Read one of your older stories... and then read a newer one. I guarantee you'll feel better about yourself.
How long have you been writing seriously? Do people ask you when you'll finally get published too? (*shakes fist*) Any fun weekend plans?
We all know that anyone can start a novel. The hard part is finishing one, and let's face it - most people are too damn lazy to do it.
Published or not, if folks in your life know that you write, you've probably been asked for advice. "I'm thinking of writing a book, too..." is a common lead-in to questions like "Where do you get ideas? What do you think about mine?" or "Can you read my first chapter?" or even "Can you help me write my first chapter?"
And after you've listened to a synopsis that sounds eerily like the plot of Star Wars, or read a one-page prologue that begins with It was a dark and stormy night, or gently pointed out that you've got your own stories to write, you probably want to shake the person and be all "Stop asking me questions! I don't know how I write novels... I just DO it!"
Once in a blue moon, though, you get someone who really does want to try, and not just because they're bored or want something impressive to bring up at the water cooler/coffee shop/cocktail party. But if they're new to it and don't have the motivation to keep chugging, they might come to you for suggestions.
I never really know what to say, so the other night, I came up with a list of things that have personally helped me push through to "The End."
I read books that inspire me. In the back of my Moleskine, I keep a list of books that make me want to be a better writer. They don't have to be my all-time favorites, but there is something about them that pushes me to write - whether it's lyrical, beautiful prose, characters so real I can almost reach out and touch them, or a plot that I can't stop thinking about even after I'm done with the book. I crack one open whenever I'm stuck, and it works like a charm.
I read blogs that inspire me. There are so many talented bloggers out there. Reading their words and knowing that I'm not struggling alone keeps me going.
I break my story into chunks. There's a point about three-quarters of the way into every story where I get fixated on getting to "The End" (sooo close! Yet sooo far!).This is where I almost always lose my zeal and my brain starts straying to shiny new ideas. What helps me is breaking up the remainder into workable chunks: finish a paragraph on Friday. Write two pages before 3 PM. Get this chapter done before dinnertime. Figure out this scene and then go to sleep.
I reward myself. If it works for weight loss, it works for writing books. "If I finish this chapter, I get to watch *insert favorite TV show* tonight." "If I write 3,000 words by 8 PM, I get to eat one Reese's Peanut Butter Cup." "If I finish this book by August, I get to buy *insert whatever I've been hankering for*."
I get my critique partners to keep me in line. It's easier for me to power through when I know that someone is waiting to read the finished product.
If I'm really stuck (and not just lazy), I don't beat myself up about it. You know when you can't sleep, and you keep looking at the clock, and it totally makes everything worse? Because then you're like, "I have five hours left... I have three hours... I have two hours..." And it's even harder to sleep because you're so stressed out? The key is to turn the clock away and don't think about it. When I'm stuck, I let it go. I do something else. I take a break. And then I come back to the story later.
I do NaNoWriMo. I am a VERY competitive person. (Like... do not get in my way when I'm playing Pictionary or Scene It.) NaNoWriMo helps me because I'm racing against the clock to pound out 50,000 words in 30 days... and I also get to check other people's status and secretly race against them too. And the best part is, NaNoWriMo isn't just in November, which can be a busy time of year. Last summer, I took part in Camp NaNoWriMo in August, which helped me write 35,000 words of ELEGY.
Most of us have finished novels... what other advice would you give to someone who's trying to finish their first?
THREADS (YA Fantasy/Mythology) The themes of fate, loyalty, and humanity are explored in this retelling of Theseus and the Minotaur, from the perspective of a young Athenian thrown into the Labyrinth.
FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS (FOTL) (YA Epic Fantasy) An exiled princess searches for the five elements she needs to win the allegiance of the dragons and reclaim her kingdom from the grasp of an evil empress.
For a complete list of my works-in-progress, click here.