Agent, Doubt, Fiction, Novel, Query, Reader, Writing

The REAL reason writers need to blog

If you’re an extroverted writer, this post probably won’t mean much to you, but if you’re an introvert, pay attention. It’s lonely being a writer. My circle of live-and-in-person writing friends is just big enough to span … a card table. Once a month. Yeah, I’m about as introverted as you can be. So you, my blog friends, are my main literary circle.

And yet, about every other week, I decide blogging takes too much of my time. I ponder cutting back to a weekly post. Maybe none at all. Or I could save time by not replying to comments, but as I’ve said before, I consider that akin to inviting you into my home and then refusing to speak to you.

I do a lot of whining on this blog. I rant on occasion. I voice my doubts and fears. I’ve lost some readers, but I’ve gained some too. And what do you do in return? You commiserate, you thank me, sometimes you even laugh at my weak attempts at humor. You give up some of your precious time to read my posts and leave comments. But that’s not the best of what you do.

You give back more than I deserve, but exactly what I need. You encourage me. Sometimes you do that with a slap on the back—you can do it. Sometimes you do that with a slap across the face—snap out of it. And sometimes your cheerleading also whacks me upside the head.

If you read my last post, you know I’ve been struggling to write that knockout query letter. I’ve been haranguing a couple of friends to HELP ME! About mid-morning yesterday, I decided I was sick of myself. Neither one of those friends needs help writing their query letters. I was too needy. I was pathetic.

About ten minutes later, I saw notice of a new blog comment. It was this one left by Brett. I read it and almost cried. It touched me that she would care enough to write such a comment. And then, I had the opposite reaction from what I’m sure she intended me to have. I got angry.

Not angry at Brett; angry at myself. It was time to fish or cut bait. Either I’m a writer or I’m not, and if I am, I darn well better learn to trust myself to write. No “sales pitches” aren’t my thing. So what. It’s my book. I wrote every word of it. Who better to tell an agent why she should be dying to read it?

So, I will write my query letter—a bright and shiny one. And I won’t ever quit blogging. I’d miss you guys too much.

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Agent, Fiction, Novel, Query, Writing

Query writing, such a simple thing … mwahahaha

The term “dreaded query letter” is almost cliché. Obviously, there must be reasons why most writers, who are capable of writing a three hundred page novel, find writing this one page a daunting task. I can’t speak for you, but I can tell you why I tremble at the thought.

I’ve read numerous articles, blog posts, and book chapters on how to write a query. Often the same thought was expressed: If you’re having trouble writing your query letter, it’s because you don’t know what your book is about. Aaaand … every doubt I had while writing the book stands up and salutes that statement.

How can I argue with that logic? Can I tell you how to play cricket, where to find the best meal in Antwerp, how the diatonic scale differs from the chromatic? Of course, not. I don’t know any of those things. Therefore, if I can’t write a scintillating description of my book, it must be because I haven’t a clue what it’s about.

I sit paralyzed at the keyboard and that evil editor starts yapping. If you, the one who wrote the book, don’t know what it’s about, how could any reader follow it? Why would they even bother? It’s obviously nothing but a blob on paper. And evidently a putrid one. How could you possibly sell an agent on this mess?

But wait! Here’s an article that says, “You’re not actually selling the book.” Whew! That was close. Uh … wait a minute. Then, what am I supposed to do in the query letter? “All you’re doing is seducing the agent.” Oh, gotcha.” Uh … wait a minute.

How do I entice an agent in a query for my quiet character-driven story? “Focus on drama and stakes.” Hmmm. No dark alley chases, no murders, no trial of the century, no corporate takeover, no evil emperors, no battles, no magic, no vampires, no demons, no angels, not even a thing to go bump in the night. I have no mystery, no heart-stopping action, no cliffhanger to intrigue an agent.

I must “seduce the agent” by conveying the inner struggles of my characters, with their fears, and doubts, and longings in language too beautiful to behold. I must present the subtle drama and stakes of my story in a way that will astound the agent into making a frantic request for the full manuscript.

Easy as pie. Piece of cake. Not.

Please pass the Tums.

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Agent, Critique, Editing, Feedback, Fiction, Novel, Query, Reader, Revision, Writing

When a book is done, and done, and done …

The focus of this blog has always been my writing life. Sometimes my posts have an iffy connection to that subject, but I try. Since, I have nothing deep or spectacular to share with you today, I’ll just tell you where I am in my writing life. (Leave now, if you have better things to do.)

I wrote my first novel for myself. It was good practice, maybe someday I’ll see if I can revise it, so it won’t be embarrassed to show itself in public. I started writing my second novel in June 2008 and finished it in November 2009. And April 2010. And October 2010. Each time, the novel grew: from 68k to 89k.

“Good grief!” you might say. Then, equally aghast, you might ask, “How could you think you were finished 21,000 words too soon?” And if you did ask, I might say, “Beats me.”

That would be a lie. I do know the reason, actually two reasons.

  1. I grew impatient to be done with it.
  2. I failed to write out the entire story, even though it was in my head.

My impatience stemmed from having written my first novel in a year, so my second novel should have been done in a year, right? Actually, I’d been working on the second one for a year and a half, therefore it certainly had to be done. Of course, the first novel was for my eyes only. No one critiqued it. It was done because I said it was. But not this novel, it needed maturing. And we all know, that takes time.

Some of my beta readers challenged me to explain, expand, extend. That was easy to do because I knew all the parts of the story they wanted to know, I just hadn’t written them out. (Yeah, I know, readers aren’t telepathic.) I know I’m not the only one who’s thought a book was done when it wasn’t. It’s a bit embarrassing, and a lot frustrating, but it happens.

However, I’m not sure other indecisive writers went a step further and queried at every stage. I did. Yes, I did. And I queried most of my A-list agents, who of course said, “No thanks.” So now I have what I think is a solid novel, one that could actually sell a few copies, and I have to make a new list of agents and start querying again. Oh, happy happy joy joy. But wait, there’s more.

First, I have to revise my query letter, which means I’ll have pulled out most of my hair by the end of the month. I’ll look okay for Halloween, though.

Craft, Critique, Dream, Editing, Feedback, Fiction, Group, Movies, Novel, Query, Revision, Writing

Scene shifting

I’m still a little dizzy after seeing the movie Inception yesterday. I tried hard to keep each thread of the story straight, but ended up in a tangle. To me, dreams within dreams within dreams … was more confusing than time travel. (Or maybe I was just too distracted by how much Joseph Gordon-Levitt looks like Heath Ledger.) And what about that ending that doesn’t end—did it topple or not? Nonetheless, I felt satisfied with the experience.

I’d like to know how they crafted the Inception storyline. I can’t imagine it was written the way it played out. I would write each dream/reality sequence  chronologically and then shift and intertwine them. But what do I know? I have never, and don’t think I could, write a story like that. Not just because it’s so complicated, but also because I don’t have the kind of writer’s mind for mystery/thrillers. My latest chapter revision is difficult enough.

At my last critique group meeting, we agreed I should rearrange the order of all the scenes in my new opening chapter. On Friday, I printed out the chapter and cut the scenes apart. It looked an impossible puzzle with all the scenes spread out on the table. My first attempt at reordering was a mess; the second was better, and on the third try it fell into place … I think. Then I used a glue stick to put the scenes back together in a new order. Now I’ll have to write new connecting narrative between these scenes.

Another suggestion from my C.P.s was that I might be trying to fit too much information in one chapter, so I’ll be considering that too. All this is good. Deep down, I felt I’d started this novel wrong. Now I’m correcting that. Next up will be a query letter revision. Fun, fun, fun … not.

Your turn: What will you be working on this week?

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Advice, Agent, Craft, Critique, Doubt, Editing, Feedback, Fiction, Group, My Books, Novel, Query, Reader, Revision, Short story, Tips, Writing

Mistakes I’ve made as a writer … so far

Today, I’m going to swallow my pride and make an admission. I’m not perfect. I know. Hard to believe, right? But it’s true; I’ve made mistakes in my writing life. Some were minor, some not. Here’s a few biggies.

My first mistake was joining a critique group. Not really. The group was fine; it was the critique I didn’t know how to take. My previous work wasn’t written with an eye toward publication. Two years ago, that changed, and I decided I needed feedback. Inexperienced, I assumed every member of the group knew more about writing than I did. I took every bit of advice to heart and edited accordingly. Eventually, I learned to evaluate the feedback and use only what I felt made my work stronger.

My second mistake was in thinking my book was finished—again and again. Almost exactly one year ago, I thought I had finished at 69,000 words. Then, beta readers said, “Think again.” They were right. So, I edited and revised, finishing again at 82,000 words. I was embarrassed to think I’d quit 13,000 words too soon, but it was done for real this time. Right? “Not quite,” said one final beta reader. Dang. But she was right too. Back to work. Finally, at 84,000 words, I was truly finished. Or not. Something still didn’t feel right to me. I’m now working on another chapter, which will add at least 4,000 words more.

You can probably guess where my “finishing” too soon mistake lead. I also queried agents way too soon—and with a query letter I wasn’t crazy about. So, I guess that’s two mistakes in one! I think the only thing I got right at that point was my 2-page synopsis.

At least some good has come from these mistakes; I’m learning to trust my instincts more. If a suggested change doesn’t make sense to me, I don’t follow it. No matter how much I want to be done with a story or novel, unless I feel deep down that it’s finished, it’s not. And if I’m not confident a piece is my best, it’s not ready for submission.

Your turn: I’m sure you avoided these mistakes, but do you have one of your own to share?

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