August 29, 2011

MuseFire: A Much-Needed Word

You may have noticed (or maybe not) that my blog's title is different. I was giving some thought to this blog and what I wanted to write about, and what kind of things you, my audience, want to read about.

As creative folk, we're kind of weird. "Regular" people just don't get us. In the past, I've blogged about hearing voices, fictional characters that tell me what to do, and a part of my brain that likes office supplies and sparkly things. I've talked about how some books are magical. If you're not a writer, we look pretty strange.

Here's another thing creative people go through that I'm not sure others get to experience:

You're going through life (folding laundry, doing yard work, or for me in most cases, trying to fall asleep) and "it" hits you. That idea for your next book, that twist that makes your whole story suddenly awesome, that character voice that you've tried to nail down for weeks.

There should be a word for that.

Sometimes it feels like a forest fire. Sometimes it feels dangerous. It makes you want to bang the table and shout, "Yes!"

It's insatiable. Consuming. Wild and organic, yet it fits so perfectly it has to be divinely inspired.

I call it MuseFire.

August 26, 2011

Writing Multiple Books at Once

I've finished another book (sort of) and now I'm planning my next one. I'm eager to start writing it. I want to see where the story leads, what's around that twist I planned, and how my character's personality develops in prose. But I can't start writing until I nail down a few details about my concept.

And while I'm excited to start my zombie book, Ivy (from my "finished" book) demands my attention. (Teenage girls are like that.)

A quick recap: I thought I was done, but it turns out the story could be better. So I'm writing out a few new scenes, I'm going to rearrange a few plot points based on feedback from my critique group, and then I'll polish some prose (again). Then I'll set it aside for a few months and work on my next project. Really.

I want to do Ivy justice. She deserves it. But after I make some changes, Roses and Mirrors needs some time to cool off, I think.

It's hard. I want to make sure I do the best thing for my books. I'm just not always sure what that is.

One thing I did learn: I can't juggle multiple projects like I thought I could. It'll get easier if I keep at it. Right?

August 23, 2011

Need a Story Idea? You Need a Creative Boost.

Getting good story ideas can be hard. Sometimes all you need is a creative boost. For me personally, I get my story ideas when the "creative well" is full AND I'm doing something boring (like trying to fall asleep, doing dishes, folding laundry, or waiting in line). So I have to make sure my creative well is always full to take advantage of the boring parts of my life.

Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner always gives good advice. She has a list of things you can do (when you're not writing) that will feed your book-writing later in her post: How to Become a Better Writer.

Routines for Writers is a great resource for any writer. Shonna Slayton has multiple posts on boosting creativity, including this one on Daydreaming. She gives a few methods to get the creative side warmed up.

Have you ever heard of the Rule of Twenty? Upstart Crow writes that your first 5 or 10 ideas may not be gold, but keeping trying.Creative riches lie ahead!

August 20, 2011

Garden FAIL

 Okay, this garden is the worst I've ever done. I got two beans from the entire thing! I thought you may like to laugh at my failed attempt. :) Behold: my future compost!

These are dead corn stalks with bare bean vines wrapped around them. The whole garden pretty much looks like this.


The marigolds did well, at least.

Francis did his job. No rabbits, no birds. Francis is perfect.

August 17, 2011

Finished a Book? Congrats! Now Do it Again.

Before I start, if you're not participating in WriteOnCon, why not?!

That said, I finished my book!

Roses and Mirrors has been done for a while. (This is the book about a sarcastic teenager that gets stuck in a fairy tale. You may have heard of her. Her name is Ivy Thorn and she is awesome.)

I jumped into the query process as soon as I was finished. I blogged about it not too long ago, about how I thrive on rejection and all that happy-sounding stuff. The truth is, rejection really is great. It's the gap of silence between sending the query and hearing a response that is absolutely maddening.

Seriously. And some agents tell you: If we decide to pass, you won't hear back from us. At all.

Really? REALLY? You can't send me a polite form rejection?! How will I know when to stop hoping for a reply? (I know, I'm pathetic.)

But I digress...

Now that I'm done with Roses and  Mirrors, and it's been sent out into the world, I'm moving on. My next book is completely different. That's right, I've gone from fairy tales to zombies.

But before you roll your eyes and say, "I don't like zombies," you should know that this isn't true horror, it's not gross for the sake of gross, and it's not totally far-fetched. This is a character-based story with a strong, witty voice (if I do say so myself) about a guy who happens to struggle with zombism. (If that's not a word, I will take it upon myself to coin it and spread it around the world because it is an awesome word.)

So, I'm working on this book, and when I say "working on" what I really mean is nailing down my premise and researching and building structure so my novel has something to stand on. I'm geeking out over all the cool little facts on biology and pathogens and parasites and neurotransmitters and especially the way the brain works, but I know that very little of it will be in the actual book. Because, let's face it, most people are not as dorky as I am.

But I have to know this stuff. I have to know exactly how my zombies work, where they came from, and--most importantly--where their weaknesses are.

The toughest part about this process is having the ideas and possibilities swirl around in my head. I can't possibly use all of them and I'm not even sure which ones will work.

So my muse is a little crazy right now. My creative side takes a back seat while logical me builds a playground. Creative Muse gives input, but it's about as much input as a kid gives to his dad for how he wants his tree house to look. It still needs to be safe and functional.

That's right. No chocolate milk fountain. :(

August 15, 2011

Free Online Writing Conference? I'm So There!

If you write kidlit (YA, MG, Picture books, Chapter books) you HAVE to be online August 16-18 for the WriteOnCon. It's a totally free, completely online conference. I'm talking blog posts, vlog posts, Live Chats, and Query Critiques. Feedback on your first few pages, your synopsis, and the watchful eyes of agents and editors in the forums.

Seriously. Published authors, agents, editors, and a ton of writers. Why on earth would you miss it?

August 13, 2011

Blissfully Ignorant: The Writer's Friends and Family

Family can be a complicated thing. As writers, we're told not to trust them to give the best feedback on our work. I was blessed with an understanding, supportive family. They probably know I'm crazy, but they don't say it out loud. I occasionally let them read my work.

My family is great (fantastic, wonderful, amazing) in so many ways. They're really good for bouncing story ideas around and for helping me develop my story. They're great for research.

But they aren't writers. (Okay, one sister is.)

When they read my work, sometimes their feedback upsets me (because they just don't understand that you don't SAY that when you critique someone else's writing because it's MY book, not theirs) or it's bubbly-positive and I can't trust it because, well, they love me and care about my feelings.

Oh, goodness... and then there are the relatives that ask: How's the book coming along? every time they see me. And every time they do, I think of Stewie from Family Guy:

How you uh, how you comin' on that novel you're working on? Huh? Gotta a big, uh, big stack of papers there? Gotta, gotta nice litte story you're working on there? Your big novel you've been working on for 3 years? Huh? Gotta, gotta compelling protaganist? Yeah? Gotta obstacle for him to overcome? Huh? Gotta story brewing there? Working on, working on that for quite some time? Huh? (voice getting higher pitched) Yea, talking about that 3 years ago. Been working on that the whole time? Nice little narrative? Beginning, middle, and end? Some friends become enemies, some enemies become friends? At the end your main character is richer from the experience? Yeah? Yeah?
Here's a link to the video, but I'm sure it violates some kind of copyright, so who knows how long it'll be up:

And then there's "that guy" who tells the WORLD that I'm (writing a novel, submitting to agents, got a partial request) and then I have random people come up to me and practically recite the above Stewie transcript.

So, yeah. Even though my wonderful family has the best of intentions and are taking an interest in what I do, I don't love sharing every intimate detail of my writing with them.

I sometimes feel lousy, unappreciative, and ungrateful, but at least I'm sane.

So really, when I say "Blissfully Ignorant", I'm talking about their ignorance and my bliss.

August 12, 2011

Find the Writing Advice You Need with the new Site Map!

If you have a specific topic in mind, or just want to browse the dozens of categories, I'm putting up a site map. It has all the different topics, from Agents to YA.

I realized, I have over 300 posts of information, but nobody wants to skim through three years of blog posts to find the one that may be helpful. So maybe this thing is silly. I think it's practical. :)

August 10, 2011

Writers: Beware of Google Docs!

I found this in the terms of service for a Google account:

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

I tweeted about this and @pearannnoyed pointed me toward the revised version of this:

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, share, upload, post or display on or through, the Service. By submitting, sharing, uploading, posting or displaying the Content you give Google a worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, share, upload, post or display on or through the Service for the sole purpose of enabling Google to provide you with the Service in accordance with the Google Docs Privacy Policy.

It sounds a lot better, but I'm wary. It's subject to interpretation, so I'm still going to hesitate before backing up my WIP on Google.

What do you think?

August 9, 2011

Slow Reader, but Not Really

I'm a slow reader. On top of that, I don't set aside much time for reading. My To-Read list crawls at a horrible pace. I'm ashamed to say that I've spent over three weeks on a book that I adore. I could understand if the book wasn't that good, but seriously, this could be in my Top 10 Favorite Books/Series list.

So I've sort of whined to myself about how pathetic this is (blah, blah, blah) until I realized something...

I read other stuff.

I have a great critique group, and I read about a chapter a week from each person that posts. Normally, we have 2-3 people in the writing-and-posting-for-critique stage. I'm also reading non-fiction as research for my next project. (I also research and read articles online and exchange emails with old professors and other pros for the same purpose.) I'm getting into (if you haven't checked out this free online writing conference, go now!) and participate in the critiques in their forums. In addition to all of this, I read a dozen books a week to my little girl. Sure, they're picture books, but it's all fodder for future projects, right?

So what do you read, aside from the TBR pile on your night stand?

August 7, 2011

Get a Good Story Idea. And make it better!

It's time for a round of helpful links! (I know, I know. It's about time.) Continuing with the 'Building and Creating Your Novel' theme from my last post, here's what I found:

Agent Sarah Davies (of Greenhouse Literary) wrote A Recipe for Writing the Breakout Novel on Ingrid Sundburg's blog. She gives tips for making your story stand out from everyone else's. It needs to be different. Original. Your characters need to be vivid, unique, but not obviously constructed.

Building a Better Novel Premise is doable. Martina at Adventures in Children's Publishing wrote her query first, using it as a guide to make sure her story was an attention-grabber from the beginning. She also goes into the difference between a "good premise" and a gimick.

Middle Grade Weremonkeys. Agent Holly Root explains why she loves off-the-wall crazy ideas.

August 4, 2011

Repost: How to Query Agents Part 1

So, when you've written the best novel you possibly can, all tweaked to perfection, what do you do next? You submit.

My recommendation: query agents. You can query publishers or self-publish, but quite frankly, I don't have enough knowledge to help you in these areas.

So this next series of articles is going to be about submitting your manuscript to agents.

First, an agent is someone who works with you, the writer. They negotiate contracts, they know all about what rights you're selling, they know editors, they know marketing. It's in their best interest to get you the best deals possible. You want a reputable agent who's interested in building the kind of career you want. So where do you find a reputable agent?

The Association of Authors' Representatives (AAR) has a (very long) list of agents that are most likely reputable. Check to see if an agent is on their list before you sign anything. (If an agent asks for money from you, s/he's is NOT reputable. Check out Writer Beware, a website that closely follows scam artists that target rising authors. AAR has a fantastic FAQ.

There are a number of sites that list good agents. Some more helpful than others. I use QueryTracker. This site has a slew of agents that you can search by genre, but better than that, it lets you tag agents you'd like to query in the future. You'll have your own list of agents you want to query, agents you have queried, and agents that have replied. QueryTracker also has a blog that posts useful information.

Similar sites include Query Shark and AgentQuery.

Seriously, if you haven't already, spend a couple of days on these sites. Get familiar with the basics of a good query letter and what an agent does. How to Query Agents Part 2 will cover how you find the right agent for your book.

August 2, 2011

Guest Post: Efficient Use of Limited Writing Time by Gene Perret

I'm pleased to have Gene Perret guest blog today! Gene is the author of Write Your Book Now. His blog tour continues tomorrow on the QueryTracker blog.

Take it away, Gene!

Someone once asked the legendary comedian Bob Hope, “If you had your life to live over again, what would you do?” Hope replied, “If I had my life to live over again, I wouldn’t have the time.” Many of us writers feel the same way, or even worse. We feel as if we don’t even have time to live the life we’re living now.

Writers have to deal with day job demands, parenting chores, and countless other distractions. Even if we do manage to steal a few minutes or hours of writing time, it’s hard for us to pick up where we left off and get up to speed again. Sometimes finding out where we are and what we have to do uses up almost all of our writing time.

How do we deal with these problems?

In my latest book, Write Your Book Now! (a proven system to start and FINISH the book you’ve always wanted to write), I recommend planning and scheduling. Try to make non-writing chores work for you rather than against you.

My first suggestion is to plan your entire book project before you begin typing even the first page of text. Know what your book is about. In fact, write a short few paragraphs to yourself defining your book. Why? So that when you do have to deal with stop-and-go writing times, you won’t have to rethink what you’re writing about and who your reading audience is. It’s all there for you.

Chip away at the ideas you want to write until you plan your entire Table of Contents or map out your basic story line. Write a brief paragraph on each of your chapters. Tell yourself what you plan to include in each chapter.

Plan a writing schedule that considers all of the non-writing distractions – the day job, the kids, the household chores, the unforeseen circumstances. Design a schedule that is challenging yet not impossible. In this schedule allow for short vacations and periods where you might catch up should you fall behind. Leave your schedule flexible enough to deal with emergency events.

One benefit of this planning is that it makes it easier for you to deal with stop-and-go writing. When you sit down to write, you don’t have to rethink what went before and what comes next. There’s no need to get your mind up to speed on this project. It has all been thought out. It’s all contained in your outline and your chapter by chapter descriptions. Regardless of where you pick up your writing project, you know where you are and what you must do. Now you can utilize whatever brief writing time you have for writing, rather than going back and reorganizing up to this point. You’re already there and organized.

Another benefit is that well-planned writing allows you to write sections of your book out of sequence. This again, is a more effective and efficient use of your limited writing time. For example, if you have only a brief period available for writing, you can select a shorter chapter or an easier chapter. You might finish that (or at least a good portion of it) in the short time allowed to you. If you have a longer opportunity for writing, you could select a longer or more difficult portion of your book.

Your personalized schedule also allows you to measure your progress and control your own limited writing time. Writing a book is a delightful chore, but a demanding one, also. There will be times when it becomes fatiguing, even irritating. I remember one TV writing colleague who stormed out of the room as we were watching a taping of the show we had just written. He said as he left, “I’m beginning to hate this family.” There will come times when we almost hate the book we’re working on. However, if you have a workable schedule, you can allow time to step away from your project for awhile. Take a brief vacation. Relax for a bit and return to your project refreshed and ready to resume your writing with renewed passion. There may be times when doing nothing is a valuable use of your time.

There’s another hidden advantage to knowing just where you are in your writing schedule – you can know immediately what you’ve completed and how much you have to get done. When I read a book, I often check the bookmark. Am I one-quarter of the way through the book? Half way through the book? It seems to me that I read much more quickly when I can see the end of the book approaching. Isn’t it pretty much the same way with writing? You seem to work more quickly and with more dedication when you feel the end is in sight.

There’s a story told about performers and stage fright. The tale goes that one experienced performer admitted that he always got butterflies in his stomach before a performance. “The secret, though,” he said, “is to get the butterflies to fly in formation.”

That’s what we writers are trying to do with the realities that face us. We have to make a living. We must care for and provide for our children. We have pressing duties at home and in the community. We have many chores that take priority over our writing. The secret, though, is to take charge of these distractions. Organize the chaos we must deal with daily and weekly. We can do that – and finish the book we want to write in the process – by recognizing these impediments, accepting them, and dealing with them. Get them to “fly in formation.” Plan and schedule your writing and you’ll work more efficiently and eventually get your book completed.

Of course, then you begin to plan and schedule your next book – again, despite many necessary distractions.

August 1, 2011

Writing a Novel that's Better (and maybe easier)

Wrapping up this series of posts on Creating and Building a Better Novel, I wanted to first share with you what two authors learned for themselves while writing the novel that got them published. (Because what writer wouldn't kill to know that?)

Author Holly Cupala did a guest post on The Other Side of the Story (great blog, by the way) on what she learned about writing. She asked questions and did research on other authors, but this post on What She Learned while writing her book Tell Me A Secret has some real gems in it.

On the same blog, Janice Hardy writes about what she learned while writing her first published book The Shifter and how it differed from her previous books.

And a couple of little tidbits that I think I worth reading: How to Avoid Pantser Pitfalls (in case you're not much of a plotter) and How to Create a Template so you don't keep having to adjust your margins and font and paragraphing for each book.
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