Weasels & Sweat Pants

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Last weekend, I had a mini-reunion with my fellow writing weasels, Jess and Rach. It was so fun to catch up with both of them, as we hadn’t seen each other since Jess got married last year! On Friday, we were able to meet up with our favorite professor, Hillary, for lunch close to Hollins University. As always, it was awesome catching up with Hillary and getting a fresh round of advice and encouragement from her as we move forward in our writing endeavors.

After lunch, we walked to campus and found the perfect spot in the library to do what we do best: we each took turns workshopping our projects that we’ve each been able to read and critique. Before we knew it, a couple hours had passed, and we each had a few pages of notes and suggestions to implement the next time we revise. I’ve started editing, thanks to their awesome feedback, this week. I can’t even begin to describe how much their comments have helped me with my WIP. I was stuck on a couple pesky details before the three of us met, but now, my head is clear and I’ve decided where it needs to go.

And even though they really helped me make a few decisions about the plot, it’s not all squared away quite yet.

One of the things I mentioned to them that I know I’ve blogged about before is how difficult it is to nail the beginning chapters of a novel. The beginning is extremely important for obvious reasons: not only does it set the tone for the rest of the manuscript, it can also make or break whether an agent or editor chooses to keep reading. To put it simply: your beginning better rock a reader’s socks off.

But no pressure, right?

This got me thinking about first dates. When you first meet someone you like, you really try to impress. You want your hair to look its absolute best. You want your make-up to be flawless. You want your outfit to be flattering. Basically, you want to come off as the perfect woman. Maybe even at the beginning, you laugh at jokes you wouldn’t normally find funny. You pretend to be interested when your date tells you all about his work’s softball team, even though you couldn’t care less about going to a game. As in the words of the character of Amy from Gone Girl, you pretend to be the “cool girl.”

For me, that’s how I try to mold the beginning of a manuscript. I want it to be irresistible.

But then, a few months (read: chapters) in, that’s when the metaphorical sweat pants can come out and the make-up wiped right off its face. Not that I don’t want the rest of the story to be as impressive. But my goal is for the reader to want to get comfortable with the protagonist and her whole bag of ridiculous issues – to know enough about her flaws at that point that make her human, and want to hang out with her anyway. To see that she doesn’t have to be the “cool girl” to still be pretty amazing.

So right now, I’m still plugging away at the “cool girl” part of the story, laying the foundation for the shit storm coming her way.

It’s going to be hard, sad, and at times, horrible for my protagonist. But it’s also going to be really fun to get to the heart of the real her.

Sweat pants, and all.

“It’s not you. It’s me.”

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A couple days ago, my mom sent me the link to a wonderful article entitled, “How I’ve learned to embrace rejection,” which you can find here.

It was a wonderful reminder of one very simple fact: art, of every kind, is completely subjective. This, of course, includes writing. I’ve recently begun querying my latest manuscript, and I sent out my first batch of five in November. Of those five, I received a request to read the full manuscript. When I sent the file to this agent, I remained both optimistic and realistic while I waited for her response. What I mean is, I was hopeful and tried to be positive about the possibility this might be it for me — that this could’ve been the agent who would welcome my duology idea with open arms. But at the same time, I reminded myself this might not be the right fit for my novel. And, unfortunately, it wasn’t. However, when she rejected me, she began the email with this: “While I do think you’re a skilled writer…” I know what you’re probably thinking; she might say that to everyone she rejects. She goes on to say she liked the story, but didn’t connect with it enough to take it on.

But at the end of the email, she said, “Of course, publishing is a very subjective business — you’re clearly talented, and I think it’s likely another agent will snap this up.” After the initial read-over of the email and the initial onset of pessimistic feelings and thoughts, I reread it a few hours later, stopping on this last sentence. I’ve been rejected before, but never had I received one that was this positive. She basically gave me the agent/writer equivalent of, “it’s not you, it’s me.” Although, in this case, I think she was being sincere in her break-up line. She thought my project has the potential to get “snapped up” by someone else, it just wasn’t meant to be with her.

No matter if you’re a writer, artist, sculptor, or anything else along those lines, you’ll run into those who just don’t get your art. It’s not for them. But that doesn’t mean someone else won’t come along and think, “this is amazing!”

Sure, you can be realistic like me and understand it might take time. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also be optimistic as well.

The article I mentioned above reminded me of one very important fact: to find an agent to believe in my story, I have to first believe in it myself.

And I do. I really, really do.

So, cheers to you other “starving” artists out there. May your wine glass always be at least half full.

Mine, on the other hand? From now on, I’m going to keep mine filled to the brim.*

*(This is a metaphor. I promise I’m not an alcoholic.)

It’s Sequel Time! (Note to Self: Don’t be Afraid.)

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Recently, I have ventured into unknown writing territory. I am writing a sequel to the manuscript I poured my heart, soul, and sometimes even tears into, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

I also couldn’t be more nervous.

It seems that when it comes to movie sequels, the most common review is something along the lines of, “It wasn’t as good as the original.” And for the most part, I’d have to agree. “Ghostbusters II” is good, but the first is much better. (My brother was a HUGE fan of this series growing up, which made me one, too.) I haven’t seen “Dumb & Dumber To,” but I’d bet money that the original is far superior. Don’t even get me started on “Halloween II” (or 3, 4, 5, 6…) And the list goes on & on. Of course, there are some exceptions to the rule. For instance, in my humble opinion, I thought “Catching Fire” was a bit better than “Hunger Games.” And honestly, my favorite of the HP movies would be “Prisoner of Azkaban” & “The Deathly Hallows” (1 & 2).

When it comes to books, though, it’s hard for me to think of a sequel I preferred over the original. In YA, I’m drawn to a fair share of stand-alones, but give me a interesting, thought-provoking trilogy any day. Over the past few years, I’ve swam alongside the dystopian wave, and most of those, if not all, tend to be trilogies. Three particular series really stuck with me, and I was sucked in from the first installments through their conclusions. I have to say, in each of these three series, the first books were my favorites, the second books held my attention and were good but not quite the same, and the final installments felt satisfying for the most part, though I usually found myself disappointed the author didn’t explain or wrap up subplots X, Y & Z. Of course, I would imagine most readers might feel this way with conclusions to series, and authors shouldn’t have to explain every little thing. Maybe sometimes they want us to think between the lines and make up our own minds about certain aspects of their stories. Maybe they want to leave us with permanent question marks floating above our heads. This, I believe, is one of the reasons I prefer the first parts of series — nothing is concluded yet, and most of them even end with a surprise twist or cliff-hanger I really didn’t see coming!

As far as the manuscript I just completed goes, my hope is that I ended it with the kind of hook that would have readers dying to read the sequel to find out what happens next. And since it’s a duology, the second installment will also be the conclusion. I can’t help but feel anxious about it, knowing the original will probably remain my favorite of the two. But at the same time, I’m excited to try something new, and I plan to give it my all just like I did with the first one. Who knows, maybe it’ll be like Empire Strikes Back and will be better than the first! It could happen, right? (My brother was a Star Wars fan, too. And I may or may not own a Wicket stuffed animal.)

How Good Books are Like Tasty Buffets

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I know I’m pretty late to the party, but I just finished reading Divergent by Veronica Roth and I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it! In fact, I blew through the almost 500 page book in just a handful of days. It really grabbed my attention from the beginning and didn’t loosen its grip until the end. I can’t remember the last book I read that I just couldn’t put down. It’s been quite a while since that happened!
Yesterday, my hubby and I took Arya to our local Indian restaurant for their yummy buffet lunch. While we were stuffing our faces and stomachs with way too much food, it occurred to me that tearing through a gripping novel is a lot like chowing down at a buffet: even when you think you’ve made it to a proper stopping point, you can’t stop. Even though you know you should, it’s as if you lose all your will power. That’s what always happens at India Garden, and that’s exactly what happened while I was reading Divergent.
In one of my classes in grad school, our professor said she’d rather write novels that are considered good writing that aren’t necessarily super popular or best sellers. While I completely understand what she means, I don’t think I can agree 100% with her. Though I strive with my own writing to make it as good as I possibly can, I still want my manuscripts to one day be the kind of novels readers treat like a delicious lunch buffet they can’t stop devouring. A girl can dream, right?
That being said, I don’t expect to ever sell as many copies as Veronica Roth has sold of her Divergent trilogy. A reported 10 million copies of it have been sold! That’s a LOT of hungry readers…

Setting a Deadline (& Sticking to It)

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“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
― Douglas AdamsThe Salmon of Doubt

The beauty of grad school (well, one of them, anyway) is deadlines. And at Hollins, especially during summer term which only lasted six weeks, there was no time to procrastinate. Or, in my case, worry and stress over what I did crank out – is it good enough? Is it long enough? Should I start over? OMG, this is terrible! What was I thinking? This doesn’t even make sense!

My fellow weasels get what I’m saying here. Basically, during school, we’d write something, turn it in, and hold our breath. That’s all there was time to do.

And I really, really miss that aspect of school – having a strict deadline that was unbendable – that couldn’t just “whoosh” by like Douglas Adams said. Now that I’ve graduated, the deadlines that are set for me are set by myself. And I admit a lot of them have whooshed by and sheesh, were they easy to bend before said whooshing.

But I’ve recently set a new deadline on the horizon that I’m going to try my hardest to meet. In my last entry, I talked about revising my manuscript. Well, I got it printed at FedEx and I have no excuses now not to work on it. So, I’m posting this deadline on the interwebs so that I’m held more accountable: I will finish this draft by April 15th.

Notice I didn’t say “I plan to” or “I hope to” – I said I will. And even though this isn’t like with school and I do have time to worry about whether or not it’s good enough, I’m very lucky to still have in my possession another beauty of grad school that I didn’t have to leave behind at Hollins: fantastic friends/weasels who will both compliment my work and tell me the truth about what needs to be fixed. (Jess & Rach, I’m lookin’ at you!)

So, cheers to ALL deadlines – the ones made for us and the ones we set for ourselves. May we catch up to them before they whoosh past us.

And luckily, I don’t have to be in shape to meet this one. My exercise goals, on the other hand… they’ve been whooshing past with their tongues out, laughing their butts off at me for years.

Climbing Over the Brick Wall

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For those that didn’t watch last night’s episode of “Girls,” the main character, Hannah, started a new job at GQ. Her first day was fabulous – one of her colleagues showed her their “snack room” where all the food and drinks are free! Apart from one coworker who tells her on her second day he hates her face, her other coworkers love her and rave about the great work she’s already doing. Her reaction was priceless to me: though flattered, she tells them no offense, but that she’s a real writer. They each inform her they, too, are “real writers”; one even had something published in The NY Times. But the reality of it crushes her: none of them have time to do the writing they set out to do anymore because of their job.

This part really spoke to me, as I’m sure it did most viewers. I consider myself a “real writer” with unwavering dreams of publication. But in life, there will always be things that keep me away from my office, hammering out a new story, especially now that I’m a mother. Along with the fictitious character of Hannah on “Girls,” I’ve come upon my own brick wall of other responsibilities pulling me in other directions.

But then, one of her coworkers – the one that showed her the amazing snack room – gives her some wise words of advice: she can still write. She just has to make time for it when she’s not working, such as on nights and weekends. Hannah asks him if that’s what he does, too, in which he replies yes, that he did…he’s let it slip, but wants to get back into it. For me personally as a writer, these are the two different phases you can be in at one time: either writing religiously or, well, not at all.

And now, at this stage of the game, I’m choosing the first one. I’m making a pact with myself to write as often as I can, whenever I can. Because if it’s going to happen for me, I can’t let myself get comfortable in the stalled position. I have to keep going… and going… and going.

Did anyone else picture the Energizer bunny just now? No? Just me?

A New Skill I’ve Learned: Juggling

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3d Penguin jugglesAnd no, unfortunately I don’t mean that kind of juggling. (But how cool would that be?)

I’m actually referring to juggling when it comes to writing. Not only am I juggling two different novel ideas (one, I’m editing and the other I’ve only written a few chapters on that I’ve set aside for now), but lately I’m learning more and more about how to juggle revision ideas. Focusing in on the manuscript I’m trying to polish/edit/change, I’ve slowly become accustomed to figuring out what parts of my last draft are usable and what needs to be redone from scratch. For example, the beginning (save for a quick scene at school), has been overhauled completely. I think I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, too.

But now that I’m close to 50 pages in, I’m tapping the brakes and shifting my writing brain into reverse so to speak, to try my best to weave in sections and scenes from my last draft. This is where the juggling gets more tricky.

There was an author that came to speak at Hollins one summer while I was still in school that said once she finishes a first draft of any manuscript, she locks it away in a drawer, doesn’t look at it again, and starts completely over. This, to me, always sounded insane. I mean, seriously? You spent all that time writing these characters, creating their story, wrapping up the conflict, etc., and now you’re not going to use any of it?

But now that I’m in a somewhat similar boat, I’m starting to see the point a little more. Don’t get me wrong, any of my last draft I can still use, I plan to – although I also plan to edit each section reused, too, so maybe that cancels each other out. But to me, what I couldn’t wrap my brain around until now is how I felt the author simply wasted the time she spent crafting a first draft. Those countless hours, days, weeks, months – BOOM – gone.

Last year around this time, I was finishing my first round of edits for the manuscript I’m re-doing now. I was confident then that it didn’t need that much work anymore, which I think is the white lie we as writers have to always tell ourselves: This novel is amaze-balls. Seriously, bravo. Expect only teeny tiny minor edits from here on out!

Because think about it: if we didn’t tell ourselves this lie – if we actually realized the editing process has really just begun and we’ve only taken the first step – wouldn’t that be so much more daunting?

So, even though it does sadden me that a huge chunk of my last draft won’t make the cut into my new one – including all of the beginning, a good deal of the middle, and probably not even the same ending – I’ve made peace with it. I know my novel is only going to get better than it was with each juggle session of revising and writing I change. So all that time I spent last year writing and revising this manuscript wasn’t for nothing at all; it was just the beginning of what lies ahead with these characters.

Who, in my humble opinion, are still pretty damn amaze-balls.

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