On The Other Side of Fear

Yeah, I’m late to see THIS VIDEO. I don’t care.

If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, the final thought was –

“On the other side of your maximum fear, are the best things in life.”

And I’ve been thinking about how this pertains to writing. And how so many of us writers, somewhere along the line, forget why we’re writing. Forget the stories we were DYING to tell when we first sat down to tell stories. Forget the stories we love, treasure, and re-read. We abandon those ideas/loves/stories for the ideas that come easier, that sell easier, that edit easier… The ideas that help us feel safe in the world we’ve built around ourselves – both our “real” world and our writerly world.

Why do we hold back?

One of my favorite quotes, and yes, I use it a lot:

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I’ve talked to so many people who are saving that precious idea, or waiting to write what they REALLY want until they have their foot in the door.

Why do we do this? We’re putting a foot through the wrong door.

I admire people who know their skills aren’t honed enough to tackle a project, and step back and work on their craft, but why do we stay there? And on the opposite side of the coin, if we do step back and fall in love with something unexpected, why do we feel we’ve let ourselves down? Finding an unexpected niche is something to be enjoyed, not something to move past because when you started, you thought you wanted something different.

EMBRACE the unexpected paths, JUMP into the things you’re dying to do, and NEVER apologize for what you love.

But if you’re holding back, or holding on to a character or a situation or a story that you wonder if you can do… Take a moment and imagine the satisfaction of finally writing the thing you’ve wanted to write for years. Of finally jumping in and telling the story you thought would be too hard to tell.

We will never know what we’re capable of until we let go of that ledge.

Fly my pretties, fly…

Happy Writing

~ Jo

 

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Wanna Know How/Where to Start Your Novel?

been-writing-logoWanna Know How/Where to Start Your Novel? Read a TON of first chapters. I’ll talk about published ones today, and unpublished ones in another post.

On my week of not-writing, one of the things I did was go to Amazon and read a TON of first chapters. (I may write up something on how important I think it is to take chunks of guilt-free non-writing time, but that’s another post).

So, anyway, over a few days, I read a ton of first chapters. Like, close to 50. That’s right, 50.

First chapters (and sometimes second chapters) are free 🙂 Take advantage.

I read in several genres and went to Amazon’s overall top 10 and read those. I mean, hey, we might as well start the learning curve with the people who are selling loads of books, right?

What did I learn? (Keep in mind these are traditionally published novels that I read)

  1. Voice is key. More than anything else, voice made me want to ONE CLICK.
  2. Not one chapter described the character’s backstory – not more than a sentence or two.
  3. I never felt slighted by not having enough information.
  4. The setting was integral to the character, and nothing more.
  5. There are as many writing styles as first chapters. Gorgeous prose won’t keep me reading more than straight-forward commercial prose. Different feels for different books for different genres. That’s OK. (And I do believe in literary-commercial fiction, just for the record).
  6. There are very, very few new ideas, if any. There are only interesting and unique takes on other ideas. Take Wood’s book – There have been kidnapping books done before, murder mysteries done before, serial killer books done before, but his MC was tough and vulnerable and determined, and I had to know her better.
  7. Each great chapter left me wanting answers. Some chapters had BIG questions – will this person live? And some had smaller ones – Where does this go?
    1. – Ove just left me wondering – What’s next for this guy? This Savage Song left me DYING to know how the two POV paths would cross – this is a huge world, and I got JUST enough to keep me grounded, but there was a lot more to learn. Followed by Frost was just a very cool premise, and when a character starts in such a drastic place, I had to see that through. The One that Got Away was so disturbing that I couldn’t leave it there. No One Lives Twice had a CHUCK feel to it, so I knew it would be a fun read (it was).

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What do I take away with this? That in my first drafts, I ALWAYS try to do too much. That most people try to do too much. This is okay. It might just be a natural part of the process. Sometimes I write the beginning, only to realize it wasn’t the beginning at all, after I reach the end. And I think in my quest for voice, I can go overboard… We might talk about that in my post about reading unpublished first chapters…

Sometimes, in trying not to do too much, we write too little, and we lose voice. Other times, we want to get to that jumping off point, RIGHT NOW, and we jump too early… Every novel will be different, and I cannot stress enough how much it’ll help your writing, to study the writing of others – both the good and the bad.

Happy Writing!

~ Jo

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DON’T PANIC: The Agent Edition

been-writing-logoI know, I know… Telling someone to “Stop panicking” is like telling a person to stop aging, or to stop being hot while walking the strip in Vegas. In August.

Here are a few things I see writers panic about when dealing with agents, and here’s why I think you should not panic in these situations.

 

 

  1. Not getting an in person pitch to the agent of your dreams while at a writing conference (well, you’ve never met, but on paper? GOLD). Here’s why you should not panic.
    1. You might end up pitching to another agent that you hit it off with.
    2. You can still query that agent! And mention you were at a writing conference with them. They’ll know you’re serious enough about writing that you’re attending conferences.
    3. Getting feedback at conferences on your book, query, and pitch? All of those things will help you hone the submission package of your manuscript.
  2. I totally met this agent in person and s/he’s amazing!! THEY MUST REPRESENT ME!!
    1. Just because you hit it off as friends, doesn’t mean you’ll make good business partners. Publishing is a business.
    2. An agent picking up a manuscript before it’s ready to send to publishers will do neither of you any good in the long run.
  3. The agent I love most in this world, just REJECTED me.
    1. Is it tacky to say there are other fish in the sea? Because, yeah… You want your agent as excited about your work as you are. (OK, almost as excited).
    2. Remember that being picked up by both agents and editors has so much to do with the right project, in front of the right person, at the right time… That’s a lot of things that need to line up.
  4. HELP! I HAVE MORE THAN ONE AGENT INTERESTED!
    1. I know, I know… This doesn’t seem like a problem until you’re in this position. FIRST OFF, when you get an offer from one, look at the list of agents who might have your full – if you KNOW you’ll pick the agent who offered over some or all of them? Please don’t make them rush to read your MS. If you’re not sure? Be honest and don’t be afraid to ask to hear back within a certain amount of time. (2-3 weeks is pretty standard)
    2. Remember that your relationship with your agent is a career/business relationship. Now, my agent is awesome, encouraging, is ready to chat on the phone when I need to be talked off a ledge. But, I also trust her with my money and helping me make career decisions that could put me on very different paths in the publishing world. Keep this in mind.
  5. I NO LONGER THINK MY AGENT IS A GOOD FIT
    1. There are a lot of posts on this, so I’m going to keep this simple. Your agent is not your boy/girl friend, your spouse, or your family. If the business relationship isn’t working, it doesn’t need to continue. If you’re just feeling meh, really evaluate the pros and cons before doing something rash.
    2. Use common sense. Use friends. This isn’t an easy thing.

 

So, hey. I know this is pretty basic stuff, but you know what? Sometimes going back to basics is a good thing 🙂

And if nothing else, this is a good reminder that parts of the agent-author relationship is weird. Here’s one of my all-time fav posts on that subject.

HAPPY WRITING!

~ Jo

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A Few Fav Blurb/Query Helps

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 3.19.08 PMThis is a post I’ve meant to do for AGES. I’m sure I’ll come back and edit this post as I find new ways to write blurbs, but these are my favs… for now.

Helping someone else with their blurb or query is simple. Working one up for myself? Not as simple. There was a blissful point of ignorance when I thought that after I signed with an agent I wouldn’t have to write any more “query” type letters.

I was so very wrong.

My agent needs a blurb – sometimes I send her two so she can choose. My publisher often wants a different kind of blurb. I like to blurb my books before I write, or just as I’m starting. And the list goes on…

ANYWAY. These are my few favorite tools when trying to step away from my project far enough that I can blurb it in less words than it took to write the story 😉

1. NATHAN BRANSFORD’S QUERY MADLIB

I find this the most effective tool to get my brain OUT of my story.

Dear [Agent name],

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in [genre], and because you [personalized tidbit about agent].

[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist’s quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist’s goal].

[title] is a [word count] work of [genre]. I am the author of [author’s credits (optional)], and this is my first novel.
Now, some agents really like to have that TITLE. WORD COUNT. GENRE at the top – check the submission guidelines!

You can find the rest of Nathan’s post HERE.

2. Elana Johnson’s Query Outline:

HOOK

SETUP

CONFLICT

CONSEQUENCE

Very often, I’ll work up Nathan’s first, and then jump into this or Shallee’s (below). After working through these, I generally have something worth showing. You can find Elana’s query stuffs, HERE.

3. SHALLEE’s query help:

Author Shallee McArthur uses a super simple tool to get started which is similar to Elana’s but also a little different:

Character

Choice

Conflict

Consequence

You can find more about this method HERE.

4. For SPECULATIVE FICTION:

Yes, you can use this for contemporary, but I find that this one helps the author showcase tidbits about their world:

  1. Hint of plot
  2. Genre images
  3. MC Intro and characterization
  4. Idea of setting
  5. Hint of mystery
  6. Hyperbole (stakes)
  7. Comparison

For the full post on this method, you can go to The Creative Penn

And if you’re looking for query help, go to QUERY SHARK – for real. Read a ton of queries and you’ll see very quickly what works and what doesn’t.

No matter which method I use, I try to shoot for about 150-200 words – your short bio is not included in this word count.

Honestly, I’ve been in several conversation with agents where they say they read a line or two of the query and the first couple sentences of the MS. If they’re still interested, they’ll go back and read the whole query. That’s how much time you have to snag someone.

SO, you need queries for AGENTS, EDITORS, BOOK SELLERS/DISTRIBUTORS, and possibly for yourself if you’re like me and enjoy having your query written up as/before you write.

Good luck!!

~ Jolene

P.S. This blog post will be edited as time goes on…

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MAKEREADY DESIGNS

 

the HONEYMOON phase

If you’re a writer, you probably know how this applies to writing –

That delightful time when you’ve found a shiny new idea and the character is solid in your mind and the words are flowing, and it’s MAGIC. And you really don’t want to do anything else or work on anything else because, hello, SHINY NEW IDEA!!

My best advice: Ride that wave

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I see writers ALL the time get sidetracked by the project they think they “should” be working on. Or the revision they’ve been meaning to do. Or the project they put a deadline on for the end of the month/quarter/season/year. They dangle this shiny, pretty idea in front of them as the reward for doing the writing that’s hard.

But you know what happens 9 times out of 10?

By the time they’re ready to jump back in to the shiny new magic project, that initial honeymoon magic is gone.

Now, I’m not saying that the magic is impossible to get back, I’m saying that re-finding the excitement can be really, really hard.

The things is – If I’m super stoked and vibratey-excited about something, my writing and my story is going to gain the effects of that. I’ll probably accomplish more on that book in one week than I will on the other project in a month.

So, WHY do we turn away from the shiny new idea? Why do we, as people who wanna make stuff up for a living, feel the need to be responsible about our projects? (Deadlines aside…)

For those of you who have a hard time finishing projects, this post is not for you… Go do something else and know that I still love you, even though I’m telling you to go away.

When we turn away from that energy, we’re shutting the door on that awesome bit of creativity that put us behind our computers to write in the first place.

DO NOT IGNORE THIS VERY AWESOME THING.

Now, if I’m on deadline or I do have another project that can’t wait, I STILL allow myself 30-60 minutes a day on the shiny new idea, OR I push off the “must do” for a week. With that honeymoon energy, I can accomplish mountains in a week. The other project is not going to disappear. Trust me. I’ve actually wished for that a time or two, and it’s never worked.

So, there ya go – When the universe gives you energy, take it, run with it, ride the wave.

Happy writing,

Jo

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MAKEREADY DESIGNS

Reading out Loud: A story

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So, I’m working on a plot-driven novel rather than a character driven novel. If you’ve ever read one of my books, you’ll know this is the OPPOSITE of what I normally do, but spreading writerly wings, remember?

Anyway. I usually read out loud to Mike just after my first draft, when most of my book is dialogue and slight action.

As we read, I make notes for myself, most of them look like this:

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So, when I read out loud, all the lazy writing is slammed in my face. Because that’s what first drafts are for. So, I’m reading this scene and there was grabbing and pulling and tugging, and it was to the point where I began to snorty-laugh every time I saw one of those words, which was kind of a lot.

And then I found THIS:

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So, I had to comment to myself for my next run through with this:

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I mean, this is okay. For me, the first draft is like a super fat outline–I just want to see if the story I envisioned, works.

So, as I’m reading my rough draft out loud, I also pause and write stuff in ALL CAPS. Things Mike points out, or ideas I want to consider. I’ll realize a small scene is a pivotal one, so I need to flesh it out. Because I draft thin (very often just over half my final word count) I also leave ideas to flesh out the story.

The yelling to myself looks like this:

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But man, getting to stop and ask questions as I go because I’m reading out loud to a real person?

PRICELESS

Most often the questions are like –

Is this boring? Are you bored? I don’t know if I’m bored because it’s boring or if it’s because I’ve read this too many times… What do you think?

OK. I need you to tell me if this is cool or if this is dumb.

Did you get what was going on there?

Could I say that better? I think I could say that better.

What do you think will happen next?

What do you want to happen next?

Too much information? Not enough?

You might read out loud to a spouse or a friend or sibling or parent. You might ask the questions by trading chapter at a time with a critique group. You might try to find someone who is a reader and not a writer. (There’s NO point in rushing your MS. Everything in publishing takes forever).

Being able to talk through problems, generally leads me to solve the problem on my own, and then I know that I’ll be able to keep the story true to the story I wanted to tell.

(Dear spouses/friends/family/significant others, sorry, but not sorry)

HAPPY READING/REVISING/WRITING!

~ Jo

 

 

 

 

 

Critique Like a Sandwich

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-2-03-22-pmSo, my last post talked about how EGO is not for EDITING, and we got into a discussion about giving and receiving feedback, which turned into – HOW CAN I BE A BETTER CRIT PARTNER?

  1. Be Aware of Bias
  2. Critique Like a Sandwich – ALWAYS smoosh the not so great things, with the great things
  3. Author needs. Are they sending you a first draft? Or something that’s already seen a few rounds?

Critiques and Edits are designed to make a manuscript better. Keep that idea in mind as you’re leaving notes.

BE AWARE OF BIAS

We don’t realize sometimes how our own tastes play in to a novel. BE AWARE OF THIS. I try and tell the author what my biases are right away – “Please know that the notes along this thread are coming from someone who doesn’t read much fantasy.” Or “You might want to have someone else give feedback on this section, because this feels similar to something I just wrote/read” Or “I know love triangles can really work, but I find that I’m super critical, so keep that in mind when you read my notes on that thread.”

This is SO helpful for the author.

Be aware of what kind of mental space we’re in. I’ve had some crits that were borderline mean. Those don’t help me as a writer, they definitely won’t make me MS better, and the process of reading my book clearly didn’t go well for the reader. If you’re not in a good mental place, just say no. That’s allowed.

There have been times when I’m reading, and I mark a particular thing – let’s say “JUST” and by the time I’m on page 300, I want to die a little when that word comes up. You know what? The author already knows from your previous notes. Make a broad note – Watch the use of X, XX, and XXX, and then stop marking those. Otherwise your notes are going to come off as rude, snarky, or will do more damage than help.

CRITIQUE LIKE A SANDWICH:

Sprinkle the good with the bad. Always.

™Specifics—explain why something isn’t working. Or if you’re not sure why it’s not working, do your best to say that the action feels wrong somehow and let the author figure it out.

™Avoid “You”—instead of “You’re not making sense here” use “This is a little confusing.”

™Phrasing—in lieu of saying “I dislike your MC,” say, “I’m not sure I understand where your MC is coming from. What is it about her/him that makes her/him behave in this way?”

™Back up opinions—prepare yourself for questions.

™Suggestions—Don’t just say, “Change this.” Give a helpful alternative. (NOTE: When I’m critiquing for people I’ve critiqued for a lot, I sometimes just say – DO BETTER, b/c they know me, and I know them. I specifically don’t like suggestions, but I’m clear with my beta readers. I’ll ask if I want specific suggestions after they’re finished reading) Very often, I’ll use “CONSIDER: And then lay out a useful alternative” – My Copyeditor at AW Teen does this, and I love it because something about that phrase makes me feel like there’s more room to it right and also to do it my way.

All of these things being said – I believe that authors should solve their own problems – the solutions will normally come much more naturally to the story, but the solution might take longer w/o help.

AUTHOR NEEDS:

No one should be doing a line edit on a first draft. Make sure you ask the author where they’re at with edits.

Do they want any notes in the text of the novel? Or just general thoughts after?

Are they feeling solid in the storyline and now want someone to help them look for typos or misused words?

Are other people reading the MS? How many? I’ll never do line notes, or anything more intense than general story thoughts, if the author has sent the MS to more than just me. It is a colossal waste of time to mark missed words and commas, when someone else is probably marking the same thing.

I’m of the opinion that fine line edits and copy edits should always be done by a pro, not your crit group, unless your crit group is full of pros.

If you’re hazy on levels of edits, I chat about that HERE

More than anywhere else I’ve been, I love how writers support one another. And like anything and everything else, being a good criticial reader is a skill that needs to be practiced 🙂

PLEASE NOTE: Part of this post was inspired by a class I taught with the fabulous CASSIE MAE of Cookie-Lynn Publishing Services.

Happy Reading!

~ Jo