Monthly Archives: April 2010

Ahhh, spring is really here!

Today I get to plant trees.

Lots o’ trees.  My father in law has hunting property that needs a few (roughly 750) new trees planted to provide sufficient cover for the deer.  A crew of us will be planting our little hearts out for the day.

Hope your day is fulled with satisfying labor, whether it be a thousand words on a new manuscript, mowing the lawn or cleaning your house.

Everybody needs a little break in their routines.  I’m just glad mine will be outside!

Basketball, Bullies and Beta Readers

The playground is such a big place. 

Over the  years, my youngest son has enjoyed the attentions of his fellow classmates.  Granted this is his first year of formal education, but preschool and a few hours a week at daycare have made him a tiny legend.

He’s sweet, smart, funny, self-assured and just enough of a dare devil (read little sh*t) to win him the awe of his peers and caregivers.

Apparently, however, this charm of his does not extend to the school-yard bully.

When I dropped him off this morning, he immediately rushed to the basketball hoops where he likes to spend most of his free time.  As I have to drive around the entire playground to get back home, I had the opportunity to watch him shoot a few buckets and get pushed down by a BIG kid.

It wasn’t one of those accident–oops, you got in my way–things.  This was a malicious shove that landed Youngest on his kiester.

It took everything I had not to slam my truck into park, wade through the wet grass and push Bully Junior down.  Sometimes it hurts to be a mom.

Needless to say, I refrained.  But it did get me thinking….  Emerging from our safe little worlds as aspiring writers into the big world of submissions is not an easy thing.

Our beta readers and critters love us on some level.  They are inspired by our ability to write an entire novel.  They are charmed by our styles.  They gently steal the ball from us and shoot their own baskets, but inevitably, they pass the ball back to us and let us try another shot.

They do not shove us to the ground, tell us we stink and go off to play with a different circle of friends.

Nope.  That pleasure is reserved for us when we venture into the bigger world of publishing.

The second we start submitting, we open ourselves up to a vast playground of rejection.  We are bewildered by the fact that agents and editors don’t fawn over us the way our betas and critters do.  Bruises from from getting our egos battered and our manuscripts returned.

We learn rather quickly that the publishing world is not always a kind and loving place. 

I read a statistic once that 88% of people surveyed said they wanted to be a writer.  That’s a big playground.

I’ve not yet found the statistic that tells how many of these wanna-bes give up before penning 80,000 connected words.  I can guess by the NaNoWriMo stats that roughly fifteen to twenty individuals out of 100 who attempt to write a novel actually complete one. 

Neither have I stumbled across a stat that lets me know how many individuals submit past the first rejection.  I have no clue how many aspiring writers have enough gumption to stand back up, stare Bully Junior down and refuse to walk away.

Instead of crying and pouting up against the wall, Youngest stood his ground.  He got up, hitched his back pack over his tiny, little shoulders and held his arms out for someone to pass him the ball.

Eventually, someone did.

I can’t help but wonder: is it his charmed life before school that allows him to stand up to the bully and keep playing?  Have those kind words from caregivers and the belly-busting support from his peers given him the confidence to know he has as much right on the playground as Bully Jr. does?  Or is he just one of those stubborn kids who refuses to give up when someone shoves him down?

On some level, I think that being a beloved in one group makes it easier to venture into another group.  Yet it also makes the blow of rejection sting more and could potentially make one languish in the comfort of the loving group and refuse to live outside the realm of that comfort.

As a writer, do you think the support of betas and critters helps you withstand the rejection of the submission world, or does it make the transition into the cold, ruthless playground more difficult?  How? 

Could this possibly be the driving factor in procrastination? 

Conversely, is the drive to prove the bully wrong the reason some writers refuse to give up even when their only byline will be through a vanity press?

Where in this process are you?

They’re coming to take me away…

Do you ever get the feeling you’re being judged? 

My geriatric lab got all snippety with me yesterday when I laughed out loud.  Granted it was just the two of us in the house, but still, she acted like I had been pushed off the Cliffs of Insanity and she wanted nothing more to do with me.

She scrambled to her feet, gave me a backward glance with ears down and pity in her eyes and sauntered off to the laundry room.  Pretty good for a dog with bad shoulders.  Pretty clear message, as well.

The dark, hot, noisy, smelly room was preferable to my laughter and the fact that I was one statistic away from being that writer.   A lunatic.  The poet who pens horrible stanzas whenever they loosen the restraints or flings herself off the Cliffs.

I can promise you, I’m not that kind of writer.  Though I can see how it happens.  A few questionable threads on writer’s boards of late and a few down in the dumps blog posts in the blogosphere make the leap not so wild.

Sometimes when we get rejections from agents or editors we feel as if we are being judged personally.  We get defensive.  Yell an invective or two.  Laugh maniacally while making promises to stalk agents in bathroom stalls at conferences. 

We often feel this same sense of judgement when we receive our manuscripts back from our critters, or when we enter an online contest and don’t get picked.  Even if the contest was The Crappiest 250 Words to Start a Novel in the History of Writing.

Our writer’s egos can be so fragile.

So what keeps us going?  In the face of horrible odds (and I paraphrase: being in the 99th percent isn’t good enough…), shoe boxes filled with rejections and scrawled red pen on our precious manuscripts, we continue to put ourselves out there.

I often wonder if it is writing that makes us crazy or if crazy people are drawn to writing.

Really, I feel perfectly sane.  On most days.  Not at all inclined to hear voices in my head.  Or celebrate invisible muses.  Pray for plot bunnies.  Break down and throw the computer out the window if I get one more e-jection.  None of that stuff.

I’m perfectly normal.

Just like you.

Oh wait, you’re a writer too!

Have a great day : )

Do you know who you write for?

Kids can teach us a lot about our writing.

In honor of National Poetry Month, my Dear Daughter is in the midst of her poetry unit for English.  She has to create a poetry book consisting of selected poems from different authors with different themes. 

I pointed her in the direction of Lewis Carroll.  She immediately loved the ease of copying The Crocodile’s eight sentences.  She waffled over the Jabberwocky, and in the end, refused to write it down. 

“It’s too long.” 

Instead, she flipped through Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and found the poems with the shortest lines.  Literally the least amount of words.  Yet she handwrote several monster sized poems with thirty plus lines each.  Those were on friendship.

The patriotic poems were each four sentences long (the shortest number of lines possible for this project).  She used up both  her short poems on these, with another four needing at least eight lines and the remaining having to be ten or more.

The moral of this project is actually pretty simple.  Know thy audience. 

Shel’s whimsy was no longer important enough for her to copy more than a handful of his words.  Patriotism (which I used to think she had in abundance) was relegated the lowliest of positions. 

The monster poems?  Friendship and love. 

Those were the themes that had her scouring poem after poem and book after book in search of the perfect stanza. 

Know thy audience (and their tastes). 

Without me paying attention, she somehow moved past the middle grade novels with bullies and mysteries and wry humor, and is firmly entrenched in relationships.  She is the quintessential YA reader, regardless of my perception that she’s still waaaay to young to fall in that category. 

Writer, know thy audience. 

It is a deadly trap to assume that what we started writing about–and who we started writing for–are still one and the same.  Trends change.  Tastes change.  Certainly, novel writing as a whole has changed. 

Manuscript length, content and stye are not constants in the publishing arena.  Even genres are fluid and reflect the nuances of society.

If we are to survive in this new environment, we must embrace these changes as readily as a mother watching her kids grow. 

We may not like it.  We may wish to slow time down for our own ease and comfort.  But in the end, we simply cannot continue to write statically.  If we try, we may find ourselves relegated to the lowliest category possible.  The place that garners no more than four lines’ worth of a reader’s time.

I used to think of myself as being an astute writer in terms of audience.  In light of DD’s project I may have to revisit the idea.  Because, like it or not, the element that changes the most in the publishing industry is readership. 

Do you feel like you have a handle on your intended audience?  How do you keep up with their changing tastes/maturity/interests and the fluctuating lines that define the genre you write in?  Do you have any stellar tips to share to help the rest of stay ahead of the game?

As always, your input and commentary are as much a part of my blog as my own posts.  I appreciate hearing from each of you and learning from your experiences.

It’s All About Style

Let’s just say that procrastination is my strong suit.  Certainly not remembering to sew patches onto Cub Scout shirts.  Nor actually sewing them on. 

Last night was the Blue and Gold Ceremony for our middle son.  He earned his wolf badge and a plethora of other arrows.  All which need to be sewn onto his uniform.

While dressing for his big event, he donned his Cub Scout shirt with its various, already-earned badges.  The ones I didn’t sew on like a good Girl Scout.

Nope, I velcroed them.  I know, it doesn’t win me mom of the year award, but in defense of me, I did try to sew them on by hand.  It was a pain in the thumb.  And the palm and the finger.  By the time I was done trying to keep the patches straight, I had more pinpricks than a pin cushion.

So I gave up and used the mighty, magical velcro.

Other parents fessed up to gluing theirs on.  A handful hired out, while still others actually whipped out their sewing machines and did it themselves.

The result was the same.  All our boys had patches on their shirts in all the right places.  Only our methods had varied. 

Writing is like that.  Each story has a beginning, middle and end, but the way we get there is very different.

Style.  It is something uniquely your own.  It is your voice, your flow, your sentence structure and your way of sprinkling detail into a your story.

There is no right or wrong way to write.  Unless, of course, you don’t write at all.

So, I’m a snob…

This morning DH got up early to work out.  I got up early out of guilt (yeah, I hate to think of him thinking of me snoring while he’s lifting weights) and the need to write.  Mornings are the quitetest times in our house and my day is so jampacked I knew I would have to write now or never.

Anyway, when I turned on the light, the newspaper was sitting there.  I try not to read our paper in depth because I’m a snob.  But the article on the front page intrigued me.  A few pages in, an article made me snort my coffee onto my keyboard.

The reason: the article was on a class to teach the uneducated about Face book.  Now I have a FB account, but use it infrequently.  Again, I’m a snob and I won’t go into detail about why I don’t use it often.  Let’s just say that the idea of grandpa’s trading crops online is more than I can handle.  And grannies doing the Mafia Wars?

People are addicted to this thing.  It’s like crack.  One of the gals I know won’t eat dinner until after she’s played Farmville.  I’ve seen families ripped apart because Mom Facebooks and leaves the sixteen-month-old to it’s own devices or because Dad hops on for a little dollop of extra-marital spice.  I’ve heard adults say things they shouldn’t be thinking, let alone be doing and airing it for the whole world to see.  And let’s not forget the teens…

Got bombed again last night.  Can’t wait for round two tonight.

How does housework and homework get done?  When does the dog get fed?  And worse yet, when do people really connect anymore?

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with Facebook.  In fact, the concept of it and social networking in general is a good one.  However, we are a gluttonous society and we don’t know when to stop. 

I just worry that by addicting Grandma and Grandpa, we will feel less compelled to spend time with a generation that really needs that physcial, human connection.  We will isolate them further and degrade the last years of their lives.

Call me a snob, but there you go.  I would much rather spend time face to face with someone than a computer screen.  I also think social networking has a way of getting out of hand rather quickly.  I’ve been guilty of it.

Do you think the class will give tips on limiting Facebook time?  Somehow I doubt it.

How do you prioritize your computer time?  Do you ever find yourself losing track of real life because cyber life is so enticing?  Have you spent your writing time tweeting about your breakfast, snack, coffee break, lunch…?  Does your productivity in writing and life decrease with the use of social networking?

*Disclaimer: this is not to say that I don’t socialize online.  In fact, I love my writing community and wouldn’t give it up unless it seriously impaired my real life.  But hey, as a snob, I can pass judgement…that’s what snobs do.*

Trading Up for Great Ideas

When a good idea comes along, we have no choice but to embrace it with both hands and our whole hearts.

A few years ago, I was in a car accident with my van.  Not my fault, but it caused enough damage that we had to buy a new vehicle.  A year later, I was rear-ended and my Pacifica was totalled.  DH claimed he was sick of my driving record me being the smaller car and bought me a truck. 

Yesterday, he asked if I wanted to trade in my truck.  Um, no.  I loved my truck.  Of course, that had never stopped DH in the past from selling a vehicle out from under me because he smelled a good deal.

And yesterday, he had the idea that somewhere on a parking lot a deal smelled mighty nice. 

I waffled.  Like I said, I loved my truck, but he sweet-talked me into finding the title.  We drove an hour away with DH touting the virtues of the new-to-us truck.  Which, incidentally, was almost exactly like my old truck–only better. 

“It has lower miles.”  37,000 to be exact. 

“It didn’t have an entire gallon of milk spilled in it.”  Like mine did last week.

“It has a moon roof and no rust.”  So what, I don’t see the rust when I’m driving–moon roof or not.

“The engine’s a wee bit smaller, so it will get better gas mileage.”  And I’ll be even more chicken to pass without five miles of open road.

I think he was trying to convince us both that our trip would not be wasted. 

It wasn’t.  I can’t say I love the new color, though DH claims Diamond Pearl is the best thing to come along since black on black.  But, color is not everything.

The fact that we got as much for our trade as we paid for it two years ago is.  Especially since I had put on 35,000 miles.  In that respect, I had driven my truck for free.  And now, my odometer is back under 20,000 miles.  Trading was definitely a good idea.

Over the last few months I’ve been helping out at our preschool.  I’ve read book after book about bears, strawberries, Easter Bunnies and butterflies.  One picture book in particular keeps replaying in my head.  Probably because the subject matter is more popular than a hybrid in a bad economy.

In the shower (the place where I do my best thinking), it finally hit me.  This beaten-to-death theme really is a great idea.  But with a twist.

It’s the moon roof version, with no rust spots and cleaner carpets.  My query letter is already written.  I know exactly what will set this book apart from the others.  Agents will should drool when the story hits their slush piles, much like my DH did at the prospect of trading up.

I have embraced this new idea with both hands and my whole heart. 

Now all I have to do is write it.

Have you ever had that “ah ha” moment with a story line?  If so, have you acted on the idea and written the full manuscript?  Did it turn out the way you expected or was it just another repeat of a tired theme? 

How can you be sure that your twist is enough to make the trade worth while?

Bread Dogs and Killer Instincts

Two summers ago, our backdoor neighbors’ son lived with them.  His baby, a pit bull, also lived with them.  Now, I was not opposed to them opening their home to their adult child, but I was a wee bit disconcerted over the fact that my young children would share the same play space as his pit bull.

DH and I cautioned our children not to run and scream when the dog was in the back yard.  We explained that they shouldn’t approach the dog like they would the other dogs in the hood.  We talked extensively about the history of pitbulls and how they were bred as fighters.   

My youngest, four at the time, took this to mean the dog was made of bread.  And while we all got a chuckle out of it, the fact that the Bread Dog came with a killer instinct was never far from our minds.

The thing about pit bulls is that they never give up.  Even as their life blood flows from them with a mortal wound, they clench their jaws and refuse to let go.  And they always go for the jugular. 

A writer friend of mine is a pit bull.  Even in the face of disheartening news, she has refused to leave her keyboard and her next story.  She is smart, talented and hardwired to never give up.  Writing is her life. 

She is a pit bull, tenacious and strong.  Molded for one purpose.  Bread to write.

Today I would like to honor all my writer friends and their drive to succeed.  I would like to offer up some hope that hard work and perseverence do pay off.  For if a manuscript is never written, it cannot be edited.  And if an edited manuscript never makes it to an agent, it can’t be rejected or accepted.  And if it is never accepted, it cannot be published.

Hang on to your dreams.  Embrace your inner Bread Dog.

Coffee Grounds–the new super hero

Coffee is amazing.  Not just the black stuff you drink, but the grounds themselves.  I hearken back to my Big Sis’s soap making days.  She used to create colorful bars of perfumed soaps in all shapes and sizes.  But my favorite was always the coffee ground soap.  It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective.

Peel an onion.  Wash with coffee ground soap to get rid of the lingering scent.  That alone was enough to keep a bar on my kitchen counter at all times.  And yet, I never thought outside the coffee can with this until a co-worker came in with a problem.

She’s a farmer’s wife and happened to unload a truck full of pigs one morning before school.  In her rush, she forgot to wash her hands with lemon juice, apparently an old stand by, pig-smell eraser. 

I suggested she wash her hands with coffee grounds–a staple in any church.  Viola!  No more pig.

In this way, coffee grounds are almost like a super hero.  Yo, Coffee Ground Boy, come wipe out this offending smell.

Writers can learn a lot from Coffee Ground Boy. 

  1. We could know our strengths, talents and limitations–and how they complement each other.  For instance, coffee tastes good, perks up a lagging morning and is great at eradicating unpleasant scents.  This is a fabulous bonus for CGB.  He is in virtually every household, ready to assist in whatever way he can.  As a writer, I’m usually good for 800 word passages, and yet I strongly desire to publish longer pieces.  The solution: shorter chapters and daily blogging.   
  2. We could be ready for action.  Instead of waffling over stale passages, we could swoop in, cut them out and move on to the next crisis.  Imagine if CGB wiffle-waffled over what to do?  Should I offer my services to the beautiful MC with the mild onion smell on her hands?  It’s not really that bad and it might not turn off Mr. HotPants.  Things could turn out okay on their own.  Hello, we’re writers.  Okay is not good enough.  Not for super heroes or manuscripts.  Get in, get on with it and get it done.
  3. We could be accepting of change.  CGB has many disguises and he allows us to dress him to suit our needs.  He doesn’t balk when I fill my mug with hazelnut creamer.  Instead, he inherently knows that some like it black, others like half and half and still more prefer a dash of cinnamon on top.  As written the first time or the fifth time around, our manuscripts are not perfect.  Let’s put on our big girl panties and thick skin.  There is nothing wrong with allowing others to help hone our java so it is more palatable.
  4. We could spread the love.  Even the smallest bag of coffee goes a long way.  Five scoops equals ten cups of brew.  Ten.  Imagine the lives we could touch if we opened ourselves up to the writing community.  If we engaged in literacy projects.  If we helped out at events.  If we wrote encouraging comments.  If we were more secure in ourselves and didn’t cut down other writers or slam rejecting agents.  CGB would be proud of our big hearts and our accepting natures.  After all, even he knows that Lemon Juice has a place in this world too.

Out of curiosity, how else have you used coffee grounds in your life? 

As a writer, which of these super hero lessons resonates with you and why?  If you had to add to the power of Coffee Ground Boy, what other tips could he give us on our writing journies?

Thanks for indulging in my whimsy!

The link that almost ended it all.

I was putzing on my computer yesterday, following links to various places on various topics, when I came across a quote that made me want to curl up in the bottom of a tequila bottle with the worm.

And, no, I don’t mean that metaphorically.  If I had even a smidgen of an alcoholic tendency within me, I would be too margarita-drunk right now to type straight. 

You may think I’m over-exaggerating (really, though, isn’t exaggerating bad enough?), but I’m not.  After reading what the agent thought was well wishes to aspiring writers, I was  ready to twist up my WIPs and light them on fire.  Followed by my laptop, pencils, notebooks and all my How-To books on writing.  Done.  Finished.  The End.

Are you ready for the magical sentence of doom?

If you are a terrific writer with solid credentials, finding an agent will be straight-forward and fairly easy.

Right. 

Define terrific.  What exactly constitutes “solid” credentials?  Straight-forward?  Easy? 

The only word in the whole sentence that made sense was fairly.  As in so-so.  Not horrible, but not great.  Better than average, maybe. 

Not too long ago, a writer friend of mine said enough.  It’s too hard.  I’m not good enough.  I’m done wasting my time. 

These are words that most aspiring writers I know have said at one time or another.  Some actually pack up their writing utensils and pick up another hobby.  Others take long breaks–decades even–before scratching out a few more words in hopes of one day finding their by line on a book jacket.  And some really do give in and give up on their dreams.

How long is too long to peddle a crappy manuscript?  How soon is too soon to quit in this fairly easy process?  Oh great cosmic agent of writerly love, wherefor art thou answers? 

These questions and more were posed during an AQ chat last night. 

How about you, oh writer friends, have you ever given up?  For how long?  Have you watched your writing buddies throw in the towel and end it all?  How do you keep from letting a simple sentence crush your dreams?  When do you admit defeat on one manuscript and move on to the next?

And as an aside, fairly easy is how I describe painting my toe nails, not the agent-finding process.  With the industry odds stated somewhere around a 2% rep rate, a whole lotta people better start writing really badly to make it fairly easy for us folks who refuse to give up!

Have a great day!