Thursday, April 28, 2011

Very Superstitious

Is it just me or do lots of writers focus on the bad and underplay the good? How many times do you have to hear, “I loved your book!” to counter the one furrow-browed reader who says she thought the love scene was not very tender. Never mind that you wrote that scene to illustrate how wrong the relationship was in the first place. Now you are convinced your whole book is an example of what every writer should not do.

The agent can say they like your style or that you have talent and the full manuscript you sent isn’t right for them but they’d love to see anything else you have. You don’t see the offer to send another story, you see “You couldn’t write an application for a grocery store discount card. You have bad hair, could stand to lose some weight and your feet stink.” And when I say you, I mean me.

I delay celebration. A publisher sent me an offer… in writing. It looks pretty darned official. As with dear Folio and her husband when the publisher accepted the book but seemed to take forever to send the contract, I refuse to break out the champagne or go for a celebratory dinner until my name is on the dotted line. Underneath the logical, accountant brain of mine lurks a superstitious mind. I’m afraid if I rejoice too soon, the bottom will drop out and I’ll be disappointed beyond repair.

We’ve all heard the horror stories of writers who sold books only to have their editor leave the house and the book is dropped. Do you suppose one of the writer’s friends threw them a party with a multi-layered chocolate cake and that somehow jinxed the deal? Think what would happen if, for instance, my husband took me out for steak and lobster and we toasted the deal with the publisher, and then, for some reason, I never got the contract.

Just what WOULD happen? I’d have had a nice evening, a terrific meal and feel special and successful. I’d feel awful if the contract didn’t materialize. On the other hand, if I don’t celebrate the offer and the contract doesn’t happen I’d just feel awful, without the feel-good evening.

But just in case, contract first, champagne later.


What are your writing superstitions?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Patience is a Virtue!

My mom used to tell me that patience is a virtue. That means I’m mind-bogglingly virtuous, when it comes to writing that is! Though I think I’m a very patient person anyway, choosing to pursue writing as a career has certainly reinforced that particular trait.

It takes patience to write a book. One-word-at-a-time patience. Not everyone can crank out a novel in three months, certainly not without a team such as James Patterson employs. Okay, so I do have a team of three – me, myself, and I – and none of us are particularly speedy. For a new book I’d say think more along the lines of eighteen months, minimum. I haven’t truly tested that theory though, as I haven’t written a “new” book with a contract deadline hanging, sharp and sword-like, above my head, so I think two years is probably more accurate.

Ah yes, mustn't forget the requisite patience needed to research agents and publishers to make certain they’re appropriate for your book, to track every query, dates sent, and the response or lack of same, since so many agents and editors are now letting a non-response speak for them. Hurry up and wait.

Finally though, success! An offer’s been made! But patience is needed yet again. Actually, patience multiplied times six months, waiting for the actual contract to arrive. Are we there yet?

Didn’t think I’d need an extraordinary amount of patience during the editing process. Wrong! Near the end, suddenly the editor wanted eight more pages, or to delete twelve. Our choice. Sigh. Can you be patient and hyperventilate at the same time? Let me assure you, you can. Scrambling for eight more pages of material while remaining patient made for an exhausting week.

Edits are done, galley proof complete. Yay! But wait, there’s more. Now you need even more patience! You’re tapping your toe in anticipation of the happy event, of the day a heavy box arrives in a nice little brown truck. You’re watching the clock, waiting for the minute when you’ll tear apart strapping tape and cardboard to reveal hidden treasure. But guess what? Until that moment you need to find the patience (and discipline) to keep working! It’s time to blog, to read and research, to update marketing materials and paint your house, to set up signings and speaking engagements, and most importantly, to write, write, write, while you wait, wait, wait for months, and weeks, and days…

Are you mind-bogglingly virtuous, too? -- Folio

Sunday, April 17, 2011


This week I have orange-hot irons in the fire. I’ve trained over many years for the Olympic sports of novel and script writing. But since who-you-know, timing and luck obviously play a role, I contemplate fate. More specifically what the Greeks personified as the Three Fates.

CLOTHO spun the thread of fate, giving us the inexplicable and irrational drive to be writers. Even now she sets us on a course that includes shearing the wool and combing the cotton, a million skeins worth. We choose colors, concoct patterns, then go about spinning our tales and repairing broken threads. She watches from a distance as we finally tie off our creations.

ATROPOS was the smallest of the Fates but most powerful. She could snip the thread at her whim. She teases us writers with her cruelty. She sends jaded pessimism off in the mail with submissions. She threatens to allow persistence, patience and dogged determination to atrophy. She chooses the manner of a dream’s demise if you let her. She’s the Fate to fear, for she can clip short a tenuous career with two simple words: give up.

LACHESIS stood between the two other Fates. She measured the thread of life, guiding the ups and downs, the spices that salt and pepper our lives. She is your critique partner’s feedback, the scores from a contest judge, the nudge or shove from an agent or an editor. If you pass her tests, she offers up compliments, first place awards, agents’ calls, sales, and bestseller lists.

When the Three Fates show up on the hearth when your author self is born, enlist Clotho (your flaming first words) and Lachesis (your magical path) in keeping sneaky, sabotaging Atropos at bay.

As I await word from producers and agents, I try to honor and be humble before the three Fates.

What mythical characters do you relate to most as a writer?

-From the Inkpot

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Grab Your Tire Iron

A few days ago, Julie Kazimer, author of The Body Dwellers (her link) commented on this site about writers wanting something so badly they’d kneecap someone to get it. I thought of Tonya Harding and how she risked everything to get what she wanted. She decided what stood in her way and took the tire iron to it. I am really sorry it was Nancy Kerrigan’s knee. Obviously, Tonya was sick and a criminal to boot, and I know we writers would never sabotage another writer to get a book deal, but what, I wondered, would I risk all for?

Today, one of my dearest friends told me the story of her son, who is a senior in high school. Aside from the test scores and grades that mark him as a brainiac, he’s also a stellar athlete and all around great kid. When applying for scholarships, he was asked to write an essay on a controversial topic such as, perhaps, striving for world peace. This was not some local couple of hundred of dollars, but a full ride to a prestigious university. He chose to write about LaBron James’ “Decision.” My friend tried to talk him out if it. Too risky, she said, for something so important. The young man felt strongly about his choice and went ahead. He won the scholarship.

He didn’t stop there. He sent the essay, along with news of his scholarship, to Mr. James. Again, my friend shrugged, thinking he’d be disappointed not to hear from the very busy superstar. A few days ago, not only did the young man receive an amazingly supportive letter from Mr. James, but a book bag, with a note from Mr. James saying he thought the young man would need something with which to haul his books.

No one likes to fail. To avoid that awful feeling, many of us avoid risks. Look at poor Tonya Harding. She risked, she failed and now her fame is tied to celebrity wrestling. But people do win. If my friend’s son hadn’t risked writing an unexpected essay, he wouldn’t have an excellent scholarship. And if he hadn’t risked rejection by a VIP, he’d never have the encouragement and congratulations, not to mention the really cool book bag.

I’m pretty risk averse. I have a 30-year mortgage instead of an ARM. I work for salary instead of being an entrepreneur. And yet, I get up at 4:30 most mornings to write with no guarantee the book will ever see the light of a publishing day. I have sent out hundreds, maybe thousands, of queries over the years, knowing that even though it only takes one yes, I will have to suffer agonizing no’s. I’ve given up weekends to edit manuscripts. And I’ve quit more times than I can count, only to get up the next day and try again. Maybe I’m not as attached to security as I think I am.

Why play it safe? Today I’m advocating we take big risks to achieve our dreams. Let’s start kneecapping everything that stands in our way. Like my friend’s son, let’s kneecap doubts, those inside us as well as those around us. Let’s kneecap fear of failure and pain of rejection. Kneecap an extra hour of sleep or the urge to sit on the couch and watch 30 Rock reruns.

Don’t be afraid. Join me with now. Grab your tire iron and tell me, what do you want to kneecap?


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

To edit or not to edit

My newly reworked manuscript was rejected by the first agent I sent it to. Par for the course, I know.

But now I’m in a quandary: do I rework it with her feedback, or keep sending out the status quo, hoping it strikes others differently? If it has a fatal flaw I hate to use up all the remaining agents by continuing to send it out.

The Sisters of the Quill advise sending it to a few more; if I get the same responses then I should probably rework it. They’re always right, so I’m going to follow their advice.

Other words of wisdom, anyone?

I’m taking a few days for one more objective(?!) hardcopy look at how it might strike someone for the first time. With a hard copy in hand, I feel free to cross out big chunks that might be slowing the story. I’m more tentative editing on the computer, lest my “darlings” disappear forever into the circular cyberfile.

It takes courage to do what we do: we’re completely free, and with that freedom comes a million little choices. At the start of each sentence infinite paths beckon. We courageously embark on one, only to question it minutes later: backtrack or carry on? Every decision we make evokes another question.

Somehow we must find the courage to plunge moment by moment into the sea of arbitrary ideas…thank goodness for the lifesavers of our critique groups.

I’m going to dive in again, fast, before I think about those other 999,999 paths.

- Storm Petrel