A Little Late for an Intro.

img_9581Yeah, it’s a little late for an intro,  but I’ve rarely been good at following rules.

I grew up with the kind of dad who used a lighter to detect possible gas leaks in gas lines. A dad who said things like, “They let electricians do it! Of course you can wire your house!”

Because of this line of thinking, and my mother’s ENDLESS patience and support, I competitively show-jumped, I went to college, I became a teacher, I tried new things. Every year. At least one. Because of this dad, I drew plans for a house, because hey, they let architects do it! And then twice (because much like childbirth, you forget the pain) we built two houses starting with the plans, all the way to the final bits of paint on the walls. And there is nothing like building your own home.

But when it came to thing that I wanted to do more than anything else, that thing that felt so unattainable, I put off trying. I put it off by switching away from an English major in college. By keeping only a moderate journal. By quashing the idea as soon as it formed.

And then blogging became a thing. A big thing. Everyone had a blog! Even stay at home mom’s like me! And it was a struggle learning to stay home with the same single, small person every day after herding classrooms of middle and high school students. So I began to blog. The first ones were clunky, but they got better, more succinct. The writing came easier. Sharing small stories about our day became easier. That brilliant part of storytelling where some tidbit from the beginning, comes back around in the end… That got easier too.

So, one day I’m playing my guitar (guitarists do it!) and I had this idea for a story. We were feeling particularly broke at the time (student loans – almost everyone does it!) and driving up the road when I mentioned having this idea for a scene or story, and my husband said, “Why don’t you write that down? Just for fun?”

He had no idea what he would start with those few words.

I’ve been seriously writing close to ten years, worked with five publishers, done literary internships, switched agents, helped with writing conferences, attended many more, seen a few successes and many failures. Over thirty novels later, I’ve written a few stories.

Where/How did your writing journey begin?

~ Jo

what the BL*RB to write next

You wanna write books that’ll sell? Sell them to yourself first. 

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The more years I spend writing, the more I see the benefits of having a workable pitch before I start writing, and the more I beg others to do the same. This helps keep the focus of the project as narrow as it should be, and this has also helped me pick which project to work on first many, many, many times.

ONE

I’ve talked about this before, but just write up a list of projects, and a one to two sentence pitch. Share with a group – separately. See which ideas people are attracted to.

Keep this basic:

Boy learns he’s a wizard and goes to wizarding school where he finds friends and discovers the world’s most evil wizard is still alive.

Ask yourself – which ones sound the most exciting when I can only share one sentence? Which stories were easy to write a one-sentence pitch for? (If it was easy for you to write that pitch, it’ll be easier for the chain of people who will possibly be selling your book).

Having a hard time with this? Write up a one-sentence blurb for a few of your favorite books, and then work on your own.

TWO

You know those Publisher’s Marketplace announcements? Read a few of those. Can you write one for your novel? Does it sound like something you’d sell your favorite pair of shoes (or insert other beloved object here) to read?

YES? Awesome.

NO? Drawing board. Go.

I’m going to use the one for Kathryn Purdie’s BURNING GLASS, since she was nice enough to give me an ARC 🙂 (You’ll note the title change)

Auraseer PM announcement

Do a search for the PM announcement for authors’ books that are similar to your own. Go ahead, write your own PM announcement – that has to be good for your mojo, yeah?

THREE

Write out a full blurb or query for each project.

First, the more clear and concise the blurb, the better you understand the story.

Second, again, send your blurbs to your agent if you’re agented, or to a few writing friends.

Third, I promise that the easiest ones to blurb, are often the projects with more commercial appeal, and projects that you’re more prepared to write than the others.

FOUR

If you’re still stuck… Let’s say you’re down to 1-3 ideas that you’d like to tackle next, write out the synopsis. And don’t fake it by doing bullet-points. Do a full-on synopsis. Sell that storyline as if you’re selling that storyline to your dream agent or publisher.

If you’re STILL not sure what to write, jump in and start a few different projects. One of the characters will grab you and won’t let you go. I can almost guarantee.

Happy Writing!

~ Jo

 

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Identity Crisis

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 4.52.38 PMWhen I first began writing, I had no notions of writing YA. I was going to be the next Nora Roberts or Sophie Kinsella. I hadn’t decided quite yet. And then I read Sarah Addison Allen, and I was terrified I’d never be able to write like that (I won’t, and that’s ok. We’re different). And I grew up reading Stephen King, but the idea of writing horror felt like I’d have nightmares every night during every project I wrote.

I fell into writing YA. My characters just started coming out younger than I expected. This wasn’t planned or calculated, they just happened to be teenagers going through things I’d gone through, friends had gone through, strangers had gone through… Teaching high school and middle school also certainly played into this.

I loved every second of writing my collection of YA titles. Well, except for those parts that made me hate everything writing related ever (most of you can understand this to some degree).

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But over the past year or so, since I turned in the final draft of ALL THE FOREVER THINGS, I found myself in the very center of a writing identity crisis.

Yes, I panicked for a while. But when I panic, it tends to rocket me forward. I wrote an MG novel with an adorable girl and a magic system that didn’t work. (this one MIGHT be revisited).

I wrote a YA horror that reads like a novella instead of a novel (that one will be revisited).

I took a step back and gave myself permission to write nothing. Here’s what I did.

I read and watched my old favs.

Pet Semetary, Jane Eyre,Garden Spells, Big Fish, Fried Green Tomatoes, Little Miss Sunshine, Veronica Mars, The Lake House, Sliding Doors, X-Files, Rock N Rolla, Snatch, Pride & Prejudice, Firefly, Stand By Me, IT, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, Jumper, The Illusionist…

And then, because I had so much fun playing with setting in ALL THE FOREVER THINGS, I thought about where I’d like to set a novel. I thought about places I’d like to go, but more than that, places that speak to my soul.

I thought about my favorite stories, and why they were my favorites, and then asked myself the hard questions like:

WHY ARE YOU TERRIFIED YOU CAN’T WRITE A STORY LIKE THIS?

And once I asked myself that question, I dug in again, hungrier than before, more excited than before…

So, here I am, ignoring the thirty or so novel beginnings I have on my computer, and knowing that I’m moving forward re-inventing myself.

This is my advice for writers who are feeling lost or stuck or unsure. Go immerse yourself in great stories. Books, movies, TV shows, radio shows, fiction, non-fiction… Soak up the brilliance, and then go forth and conquer.

Happy Writing!

~ Jo

 

Humilty & Ego

Humility and EgoThere’s a place for both humility and ego in any creative project. Ego has its place in drafting, in creating, in crafting… Humility is needed for editing and yes, crafting goes here too.

The one time I get the perfect balance of humility and ego is when I’m working on a project with another author. I highly recommend people do this, even if they just do a short work.

  1. You bounce ideas off one another, and you learn that something good can come from almost any idea.
  2. Opposite thoughts on how a story could go, often leads to an entirely new solution, which I’d never come up with on my own.
  3. You fight for your character or your idea, and your partner does the same. You’re able to see so many more sides of the story in a much shorter amount of time.
  4. We “grill” one another on plot points and on character, which helps give us a solid idea to move forward with.
  5. Two minds are almost always better than one.
  6. You have a partner to call you out when you try to take the easy way through a situation in the story, or emotion in the story, or setting in the story, or characterization… You get the idea.
  7. When you reach solid milestones, you have someone to high-five over your raging success.
  8. You know how at some points, you KNOW your story is the best thing ever? Multiply that by two.
  9. You know how sometimes you KNOW your story is the worst thing ever? Multiply that by two as well. The brilliant time is when one of you is up and the other is down – I find we often meet in the middle, more determined than ever.
  10. When your hard-earned completed project finds its way onto the shelves of your local bookstore, and bookstores nationwide, you get to stand with a friend and say, “Holy (insert your fav *&#%$ here), look what we did.”

Can you get this feeling through your beta readers and critique partners?

YES.

Is it the same?

NOT QUITE.

But it is definitely close enough.

The one piece of advice I will always, always, always give is this: Find your people. Love them hard. You’ll need the help before you’re published, during the publishing process, and once that child of a story is out in the world.

Happy Writing!

~ Jo

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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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