Category Archives: Writing is Like…

Cleaning Bathrooms Is Exactly Like Editing

I have three boys, which means lots of resident testosterone. Add in friends, and the testosterone count increases exponentially. Throw in one daughter with finger nail polish, make up and ponytail holders to spice things up. Now you’ve got a glimpse into my house. As you can imagine, bathrooms quickly become a place I detest while maintaining a firm spot at the top of my TLC list. I can clean and clean and clean again, and yet every time I walk into a bathroom, I could clean it once again. Toothpaste on the mirror (how the heck does it get there?), soap scum in the sink, empty shampoo bottles, emptier toilet paper rolls and overflowing wastebaskets. Not to mention the toilet. I walk out, and someone else walks in. Scrub, restock, repeat.

Same with editing. No matter how many times I revise, rework and edit, my manuscript is never perfect. It just looks that way until the next time I pick it up.

Tiring: yes. Frustrating: even more so. Worth it? Heck yeah.

I just scrubbed my middle grade manuscript this weekend. It required a little picking up, not a major cleansing. Now to send it off to my editor, which is a bit like inviting the proverbial mother-in-law into the bathroom with a white glove…

What do you love about editing? What do you hate about it?

Curious minds want to know!

The Aroma of Reading

I wish computers had scratch and sniff screens. If they did, I’d let you smell my coffee. Long story short, I used to Hate the bitter, black water. In fact, I didn’t start drinking it until about three years ago. My relationship with coffee began with chai tea in the mornings with Dear Hubby. That is, until shipping it to our little wilderness outpost got to be an expensive pain in the rear.

Yet, the experience of sipping my tea on the deck in the wee hours of the morning before the kids got up for school and Dear Hubby trudged off to work was something I refused to give up. So I started drinking coffee. Or rather, I started drinking a splash of coffee in my creamer.

Today, I actually use more coffee than creamer. In part because Dear Daughter and I have started a love affair with flavored coffee. This morning’s brew: Toasted Pecan Kona Snickerdoo with hazelnut creamer. Yep, three coffees mixed together to create a drink that tastes like liquid Girl Scout Cookies.

Yesterday, we slurped down a pot of Double Caramel Chocolate Brownie. Who knows what delights tomorrow will bring.

Regardless, my house smells yummy, my taste buds are tickled, and you’re probably wondering what the heck coffee has to do with reading. It will come as no surprise when I say that a novel is exactly like a cup of joe.

Seriously, a well-written passage awakens the senses and stimulates the brain. Coffee–and great literature–is calming/exhilarating, and slightly addictive. It is also highly versatile with enough flavors, caffeine combos, and creamer options to keep even the pickiest drinkers happy. No two pots need ever taste the same.

Reading is similarly nuanced. It is personal and intimate, with each reader connecting to characters and plot lines on a different level and for a variety of reasons. Even reading the same story years later can taste as different as the first sip of the morning from the very last swallow of the day. Each drop–each word–in between should be savored for what it means at that moment.

Yeah, a good book is exactly like a mug of specialty java.

What’s brewing in your pot today? What books have you enjoyed recently and why? What’s next on your TBR list? Which books have grown with/on you over the years?

Curious minds want to know. In the meantime, I have a mug of coffee in one hand, The Light Between Oceans in the other and a rocking chair waiting outside.

Automatic or Manual Transmission: which drives your writing?

Twenty-five years ago, I learned how to drive a stick shift. In fact, it was in my then-boyfriend-now-husband’s Camaro that I got pulled over by a cop for speeding. It was the second time I’d driven a car with a manual transmission. I batted my baby blues and said I was just learning how to drive.

“Looks like you’re learning some bad habits,” he said and handed me back my temporary, paper license. Yeah, I was that fresh to driving period.

He let me go with a warning, and I vowed that I would work on my driving skillz. You see, driving a stick shift is soooo much more difficult than driving an automatic. Hills suck. Hills in winter doubly suck. Starting smoothly takes practice and shifting gears can be tricky–especially with a tight shift pattern. Unintentionally killing the engine is a symptom of novice drivers.

But, oh can you have fun when you’re fully in charge of the power!

Writing comes in two varieties: manual and automatic. The latter is nearly a no-brainer. Sure, you have to watch for the other vehicles and obey traffic signs, but after a few years, it becomes as unconscious as breathing. You just do it, because the car novel nearly drives itself.

Manual transmission is a whole ‘nother story. It takes practice and skill and finessing. It’s a completely conscious way of driving your story forward. It adds an element of power and control–or the lack thereof for the newbie behind the wheel–and nothing is more freeing than learning how to slam shift a car to maximize the energy purring under the hood.

This isn’t about pantsing or plotting. It’s about being conscious of the story as you write. It’s about having one hand on the wheel and the other on the gear shift. It’s about listening to the story’s RPM’s and deliberately acting upon the natural rhythms, not just sitting back and letting the cruise control handle it all.

What kind of writer are you?

Curious minds want to know.

Writers are to Readers as Cats are to Dogs

The other day, my Dear Daughter played a funny video on YouTube. One segment showed a baby kitty slipping down a slide, desperately mewing for its mommy to come save it.

Our labrador pup totally freaked out. With every cry, she would tilt her head nearly sideways and peer around the room in search of the kitten. DD then slipped her kindle under the couch and pushed play. Said lab dug furiously at the tiny space between the furniture and the floor in an attempt to get to the feline in distress.

I’m not sure what she would have done with a baby kitty if she’d gotten a hold of one, but she was one interested pup.

That should be the relationship writers strive for with their audiences–an all-consuming interest that nearly drives readers wild.

Dear writer friends, what do you do to make your readers’ ears perk up? How do you snag your readers’ attention so they don’t wander away from your book on the shelf to another title further down? What makes your stories as appealing as a kitten mew to a hunting dog?

Curious minds want to know.

Writing Is Exactly Like Heart Disease

My Dear Hubby has a heart defect. All his life, he’s known something wasn’t quite right with his heart–“he’ll never play sports,” said one doctor–“you have no superior vena cava,” said another–“a heart murmur, that’s what he has,” was a sentiment echoed by several other professionals.

Yet, no real diagnosis was ever provided, nor was any believable prognosis ever made. Despite being told he’d never play sports, DH vigorously competed all through high school and works out nearly every day as an adult.

He was never limited physically, though the emotional toll has grown over the years. You can’t hear, “We have no idea what the long-term effects of your condition may mean,” without stressing over your future just a little bit.

Writing carries it’s share of stress, too.

  • Who will love my writing?
  • Who will hate it?
  • What if nobody publishes it?
  • What if somebody publishes it?
  • I can’t self-promote. It’s too scary.
  • I’m afraid to query.
  • I’m afraid not to query.
  • I have writer’s block.
  • I sent my query yesterday and haven’t heard back. Now what do I do?
  • I can’t stand waiting.
  • I. Can’t. Stand. Waiting!

Writers can nearly cripple themselves with fear of the unknown. Like DH’s medical problem, writing has no clear diagnosis or prognosis.

Just because you find an agent doesn’t mean you will get published. And even if you publish one novel, it doesn’t mean you’ll hit the best sellers list. Heck, it doesn’t even mean you’ll be able to complete a second, cohesive manuscript. There are no guarantees in writing.

None.

But there is one certainty.

If you let fear rule your writing, you will never get published.

DH went to the Mayo Clinic this week. After getting checked out by a cardiologist, he finally has a clear diagnosis. He has a rare heart condition that affects roughly .4% of the population. In a way, one of the doctors was right. DH didn’t have a superior vena cava. He had two of them. He’s also 100% healthy and doesn’t have to worry about his ticker unless he undergoes heart surgery for something else altogether.

Imagine if DH’s mom let fear change the course of his life. If she had refused to let him play sports, his heart would have weakened from inactivity. He would have failed physically without even trying.

How do you stay inspired to write? In what ways do you let fear rule your writing? Has anyone ever told you your heart was too weak for writing? How did you prove them wrong?

Curious minds want to know?

Tweet Me A New Book

OMG: It Snowed.

Like, it’s snowing.

Did you see the snow?

Yay, snow!

If you’re annoyed with these bite-sized updates, consider how annoyed agents and editors are when they see the same dang story cross their desks, one query at a time.

If you think of your novel as a tweet, you can see very quickly how easy it is to get lost in the never-ending updates that inundated facebook and twitter by area residents yesterday as the snow took many of us by surprise.

So how do we stand out in an agent’s or editor’s crowded inbox? We tweet something new and original. Something like, “Thanks for the message on my windshield, Jack Frost!” We don’t use the same tired phrases to convey our thoughts. Nor do we use the same tired perspective.

Rachel Kent at Books and Such Literary Agency explains the key to giving your novel that added twist of freshness.  As usual, her tips are spot on.

Writer, Stina Lindenblatt takes this idea one step further by providing insight into how to properly use backstory. Because a glob of backstory can be as off-putting as an inbox full of weather reports.

How do you stand out in a crowd? What tips do you have for keeping your writing as fresh as the first, unexpected snow?

Curious minds want to know.

Writer Wednesday: Visually Impaired Awesomeness

Yesterday I had the pleasure of helping our elementary school with vision and hearing screening. You know, the time when you stand ten feet back and squint at the chart with your eye covered?

While the majority of the kindergarten and first graders had perfect vision and could rattle off the letters without even blinking–literally, there was one kid who didn’t blink the whole time he spouted off the letters–a few struggled to read even the giant letters at the top.

They would lean to the side, peak around the stick or squint really hard to try to get the letters into focus.

Books are no different. Many of them are formulaic. insert new character name here. Add a dash of new hair color and give the MC a cat instead of a dog. Boy meets girl. Girl likes boy. Best friend butts in…yada, yada, yada. Throw in a bully, and we’re good to go.

But every once in a while, a book comes along that appears fresh and new and exciting and never before read.

I picture two kinds of writers in the above scenarios.

  1. The ones with perfect vision who whip out formulaic novels without blinking an eye, and
  2. Those who squint and twist and lean just enough to see things in a different way.

What kind of writer are you? How do you find unique ways to look at your world? Better yet, how do you translate that into a novel novel?

Readers, what books took you by surprise with their originality?

Curious minds want to know!

pS. Spell check hates that I used novel twice in a row! Spell check meet novel the Adjective and novel the Noun.

Writing is Like State Speech–many will enter, few will win.

For the record, my speechie pulled sixth place at the state speech tournament two weekends ago.  After a grueling day of four rounds, he received a medal.  A nice big medal.  Belt buckle size.

I’m super proud of this accomplishment, and I hope he is, too.  You see, first doesn’t mean that any place behind it is null and void.  In fact, over 330 schools participated in Class 1A speech this past season.  Three hundred and thirty some.

Sound a little bit like writing?

If 330 aspiring writers sent off their manuscripts to an agent, the agent would request to see about 33 of them–or 10%.  In speech terms, this would be the narrowing down of kids via subsections and sections, where only 24 brave and articulate souls made it to state in each of the 13 categories (think genres).

While there, they had to perform in front of peers and judges to earn a spot in final rounds.  Only the top eight speechies in each category advanced to the stage to present their speech in front of a panel of judges.

Again, just like writing, the estimate on the streets is that two percent of writers will garner agent representation and make it to this prestigious round.  330 x 2% = 7ish.  I know.  Scary and disconcerting, right?  Yet my speechie didn’t choke and quit halfway through.  No, he prepared speech after speech after speech to make it into that elite 2%.  In writing terms, he nabbed his agent.

But lest we believe garnering interest of an agent is the end of the odds, consider further.  Of the 2% of writers who receive representation on a first novel, only half of them will get published.  ONLY HALF.

Holy crap!  Why bother, right?  I mean, of those 330 speechies writers, only 3-4 of them will get published.  With odds like that, we might as well dance in an electrical storm holding metal umbrellas.  At least then we’d have something to jolt us into reality.

But reality is that the top ten percent is something to be proud of.  It means we’re doing something right.  It means we’re getting closer.  It means we have a chance.

Garnering the backing of an agent is incredible.  It’s amazing and thrilling and wow…just wow!  Making it to final rounds during State Speech is incredible.  The top two percent of anything is outstanding and a great accomplishment.

Sixth in State.  It gets us a medal.  It tells us we’ve  wowed a panel of judges and deserve to be recognized.  The only thing it doesn’t give us is a publishing contract.

Yet.

Next year.  Next season.  Next manuscript.

Ten percent, two percent, one.

Dearest writers, how do you feel about where you’re at on the journey?  Have you cleared sections and made it to state?  Did you break finals and get to compete for that medal?  Have you missed it by *thismuch*? 

What are your plans for continuing?  Does this post make alternative publishing routes sound more appealing to you, or have you already begun walking that path?  If so, what are your experiences?

Curious minds want to know.

Does your writing look like dreamsicle vomit?

After five years and five thousand fingerprint smudges, we repainted our entire upstairs.  Initially, DH was less than thrilled with my choices–particularly the hall bathroom.

“It looks like a dreamsicle threw up in here.”

He was right and I doubted my pick, even though I never told him that.  “You’ll see.  As soon as I get the rugs in and the pictures up and, and, and, it will be fine,” I said with fingers crossed and wishy-washy words falling from my lips.

Well, the rugs aren’t down yet and we have yet to replace the vanity light and sconce to match the chocolate-brown accents, but…

…last night DH approved.

“I just couldn’t see it until it was all put together.”

And that, my writer friends, is exactly why we need to spit-shine our submissions before sending them off to agents and editors or self-publishing them.

We must always, always send our very best.  It must not be the shell of an idea, stripped down to the paint on the wall.  Our manuscripts must be complete and compelling.  Touched up and accessorized perfectly to bring out the visions in our heads.

Only then can a reader appreciate what could be.  Because, until then, all they will see is a work in progress–a look that can be very ugly indeed.

Cat’s Guide to Avoiding Manuscript Vomit 

* If you feel compelled to send a different section of your manuscript than what is traditionally asked for, you’re not ready to query.

* If you “just finished writing my first novel”, you’re not ready for anything but a long break and a serious revision.

* If you made substantial changes to your manuscript during your last read-through, you’re not ready to unleash your writing on the reading public.

* If you feel as if replacing the faucet and countertop will make everything perfect, you must stop somewhere because you can’t afford a major remodel.  Which is the great thing about writing.  Every revision is free.  All it takes is time and dedication.

So, don’t sell yourself short by sending out a half-finished product.  Instead, take the time you need to satisfy your Inner Editor.  Listen to and learn all you can about the writing business.  I know you want your novel in the hands of readers right now.  So do I.  But, showing our babies to the world before they are truly ready will only garner rejections, negative reviews and heartbreak.

And the last thing we want to hear about our manuscripts is that they look like a hodge-podge of ideas and characters vomited onto the page.

So, go forth and remodel.  You have my permission.

Editing Is Like a Winter Storm

After the freezing rain, my back yard is captivating.  Grasses bend under the weight of their icy accessories–tiny crystal beads that coat their parched stems.  A light dusting of snow covers the rock and dirt and brown detritus of fall, creating the illusion of unblemished beauty.  In one night, my yard has been transformed into a magical place.

I’ve been known to feel this way about my manuscripts.  But only after I’ve survived the sleet, the blizzards and the sub par temps of editing.

You see, editing can be a gruelling process.  It’s a journey into winter, where hell can/and does freeze over.  Where chilling winds sweep across the landscape of your novel and leave some parts bare.   Where a writer can get lost in the mounting drifts of plot and character and setting, and lose sight of home.

Editing is a dangerous season that can kill dreams as surely as it kills car batteries.  It saps the energy from writers and throws them into combat against the elements.  Only a determined few ever reach the other side of the storm.

Editing is gruelling, but I love it.

What about you, dear writers?  How do you prepare for the task of editing?  What tips can you share to help other writers survive the pitfalls along the way?  How do you know when your manuscript is ready to send out? 

And most importantly, how do you prepare for the next storm?  Because, inevitably, there will be more rewrites along the publishing path.  Though hopefully with the guidance of an agent or an editor.

Curious minds want to know.