Back Into Creation Mode

The past first months, with a few brief exceptions, I’ve been in revision mode, and I haven’t made much forward progress on my current fantasy project. I worked on it fairly steadily at the beginning of the year, then I got sidetracked by the co-author competition. I got some more work done, then May hit. May was a bad month for me; I was sick and/or depressed for pretty much the entire thing. June was taken up with editing Origins. I got back into my fantasy for July while Origins was out to beta readers, then spent August revising Origins yet again.

Now I’m back, once again, into my fantasy project. But I’ve still been revising. I know, I know, you’re not supposed to revise a first draft on the first run-through, but I have good reasons. First off, I’ve learned quite a bit in the last few months through both my revising efforts and working with my critique partner. I knew the 7 chapters I have done could use some work, and I wanted to tighten up the story before moving forward. Second, I haven’t spent much time in this project lately, and while I haven’t forgotten what happens, it wasn’t exactly fresh in my mind. Reading and altering my existing chapters would put me in the right mindset to begin to add new content.

I never realized before that writing new stuff and revising old stuff required different mindsets. Writing new stuff is easier for me. Revising is tougher, because at the time, I believed whatever words I used were the right ones to say what I wanted to say. Confused? I tend to write well on a first draft. Not perfect by any means, but decently well. It’s hard for me to identify places that need changes, because I obviously thought I did it right the first time. Then, once I’ve found the errors, I struggle to fit new words into the existing story.

My critique partner has been a big help. He’s been reading through my chapters as I get them done and offering the commentary I so desperately need. He points out places of confusion, questions I’ve left unanswered, or passages that need clarification. He told me when he didn’t like my protagonist very much and when my character development needed more depth. It’s his recommendations I’ve kept in mind while doing my read-through.

But, tonight my revision will be done. After I finish this post I’ll pull up Chapter 7 and give it the attention it needs, then I’ll be free to start moving my story forward. I’ve missed this. I’ve missed writing new content, and exploring my characters, and the sense of productivity I feel as the chapters begin to add up. Revision is important, it just doesn’t hold the same sense of accomplishment for me.

I’ve also set myself new goals. I won’t allow any time-sucking distractions (my distractions this summer were valuable, but time-sucking all the same). I won’t let multiple days go by where no work gets done. If I put the time in, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to finish two chapters a week. And, most important, my deadline: I want to have my draft finished by the end of the year. This is a big step for me, because I’ve never set myself a deadline like this before. Hopefully it’ll motivate me to keep putting the work in when I feel like taking a break. Telling all of you is my accountability. I can’t imagine admitting to you that I missed my deadline.

So, back into creation mode I go. Wish me luck, and keep checking in for new stuff. Also, as always, remember to leave comments and sign up for an email subscription.

James Patterson’s Masterclass

I have Facebook to thank for this one. I’d never heard of Masterclass until the Facebook ads, in their infinite targeted wisdom, displayed a page for James Patterson’s 2017 Co-Author Competition. Of course it caught my interest right away. Author a book with James Patterson? Yes please!

The contest was simple: submit a 1,000 word sample chapter and a 2 sentence book hook. It wasn’t open to just anyone, though, only students of James Patterson’s Masterclass. If you’ve never heard of Masterclass, it’s a site where experts from almost any field you can think of offer online classes teaching everyday people how they do what they do. I’ve only taken the one class, but others include: Steve Martin teaches comedy, Gordon Ramsay teaches cooking, and Reba McEntire teaches country music. You get the idea. Currently there are at least 20 classes offered.  $90.00 signs you up for the class and grants you lifetime access to all the lessons and materials available.

So I signed up. The lessons are all videos that you move through at your own pace, each lasting up to half an hour. James Patterson discusses his own writing process and coaches you on how to emulate him in your own work. As the bestselling author in the world, he’s worth listening to.

I learned a lot from James Patterson. He’s a very interesting man, and he shares many anecdotes and life experiences over the course of the class. That being said, I don’t think I’ll be taking all of his lessons to heart.

There are some points that are basic to every story, regardless of what the author is trying to accomplish. You need to have believable characters, you need them to have engaging dialogue, you need to keep driving your plot forward with each chapter. These lessons I’ll keep. But.

If you’re familiar with James Patterson’s books then you know that he has a very distinct writing style. His chapters are short, often less than 1,000 words, and are action-filled and dynamic. This works great for a thriller, but not so much for other genres. I’m currently writing a fantasy, which doesn’t lend itself well to short chapters and non-stop action.

Another thing I disagree with him on is outlining. His outlines are impressive, there’s no denying that. He spends months writing outlines, and every single detail is laid out before he actually begins writing chapters. I can’t do that. I tried. I probably could, if I wanted to spend the time learning the process and working at it, but I have no desire to. I have my own process, and I feel no need to adopt his.

I rarely outline. Or rather, I write very brief outlines. I have a basic plot, an idea of where my characters need to end up and what needs to happen to them along the way, but all the stuff in the middle is up for grabs. I enjoy the freedom it gives me. Not that I’m right and he’s wrong, just that our processes are different. Then again, he’s a best selling author and I’m a nobody, so there’s that. Still. I believe that my comfort level is an important aspect to any process I use, and I’ll continue to ignore outlines until I feel otherwise about it.

What about you? Writing friends, do you use outlines, or do you just wing it? Let me know!

As always, comments and subscriptions are appreciated!

 

Setting Realistic Goals

I started trying to write my first novel seven years ago. I was fresh out of college with a Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics. I had moved to Illinois and was working at a long-term acute care facility. I was dating someone (now husband) and we got to talking about it. He was trying his hand at a story, and I mentioned that I’d always wanted to be an author, and his response was, essentially, why not? I don’t remember the exact conversation, but he encouraged me to give it a shot if I truly wanted to do it.

So, I started a novel. I didn’t make it very far. I didn’t plan anything out, just had a basic idea, and I soon hit a wall. I thought a little about getting published, but at the time it caused me significant stress and panic. It was too big. If I was going to start this journey, I needed to think smaller.

Going smaller goes against conventional wisdom, I know. In a world of “reach for the stars” and “go big or go home”, we’re encouraged to set goals as big as we can imagine. Maybe that’s okay for some people. It wasn’t okay for me.

I decided to set a stepping-stone goal, something realistic for me. I wanted to write a novel. That’s it. No plans to publish, absolutely no thought to the future.  I didn’t allow myself to consider anything more. I wanted to write a novel to prove to myself that I could do it. If I did, then I’d consider taking the next step.

I had a few false starts. The first one I already mentioned. I gave up on that story quickly and started a new one. I tanked the new one too. I didn’t plan well for either of those stories. I had very few characters, a limited plot, and no idea how to expand them into a full-length book. They just needed…more.

I started my third story, and Origins was born. It wasn’t easy. I was working full-time, and finding the time to write was tough. I also struggled with working from a computer. I still don’t like writing into a Word document, and I use Scrivener instead (which I love, but that’s a topic for a different day). The entirety of Origins was written by hand in a series of notebooks, then transcribed into Word. It took a long time. I got discouraged often, and would set the whole project aside for months at a time.

When I finally finished, the whole thing had taken me about 3 years to complete. That’s a major reason I had to set it aside and couldn’t bear to work on it further (more about that in this post, Letting Go).

But, I achieved my goal. I wrote a novel. No matter how hard it had been, or how many mistakes I made getting there, or how often I’d given up completely, or how much the finished product might suck, I still did it. That’s an achievement I will always be proud of, finishing that first novel.

Now, I need a new stepping-stone goal. I’ve proven that can I do it, now I just need to do it over and over and over again. I’ve started setting myself deadlines, with definite plans and timetables for the projects I’m working on. I think my next goal will be: secure an agent or self-publish. I’m not really in charge of that one. I’d love to have my work represented, but if it’s not, I’m more than willing to follow a self-publishing route.

I accomplished the little goal. Now I can move forward toward the bigger, scarier goal of getting myself published. It’s still scary, and I still stress out about it, but it doesn’t seem so impossible anymore.

As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. I know the comments section doesn’t appear on the homepage (I’m working to fix it, I just don’t know how yet), but comments can still be made by clicking on the title of the post. Also, I’ve set up an option to subscribe if you’d like to receive notification of new posts.

Query Letter Rejections

As previously mentioned here, my first rejection came just an hour after the agent received my email. I got one each day for the next several days, then they kind of tapered off. Those first rejections came in the form of form letters, which leaves me not knowing if they even read my submitted writing sample. Some later agents were kind enough to write me an email themselves. Here are some of the emails I got:

Dear Author:

 Thanks so much for letting us take a look at your materials and please forgive us for responding with a form letter.  The volume of submissions we receive, however, makes it impossible to correspond with everyone personally.

Unfortunately, the project you describe does not suit our list at this time.  We wish you the best of luck in finding an agent and publisher for your work and we thank you, once again, for letting us consider your materials.

Sincerely,

AND

Thank you very much for your query, which we have read with interest. Unfortunately, the project does not seem right for this agency, and we are sorry that we cannot offer to serve as your literary agent.

We also apologize for the form rejection.  The sheer number of queries we receive prevents personalization in order for us to respond in a timely fashion. 

We wish you all the best in finding more suitable representation, encourage you to query widely, and thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your work.

Sincerely,

AND

Dear Jessica,
Thank you for thinking of me for your work; unfortunately, it’s just not quite right for me.  As I’m sure you know, whether or not to take on a client is a very personal decision, and has as much to do with an agent’s personal preferences as it does an author’s writing abilities.
I wish you lots of success in your writing career.
All the best,
AND
Dear Jessica,
 
Thanks so much for sending along the sample pages of Origins.  I’m sorry to say, though, that I just wasn’t as completely drawn in by the material as much as I had hoped.  What with my reservations, I’d better bow out. 
 
Thanks so much for contacting me, though!  I really appreciate it, and wish you the best of luck.  

Reasons An Agent Might Reject A Query

It isn’t personal. But that doesn’t stop it from feeling personal. It still hurts, trust me.

  • Maybe your genre doesn’t fit with what they’re accepting right now.
  • Maybe they signed clients recently with stories similar to yours, and just don’t have room for you.
  • Maybe your letter didn’t promote your book very well, so they didn’t even read it.
  • Maybe they liked your story well enough, but they don’t think it’ll sell to a publisher.
  • Maybe your story is okay, but it didn’t draw them in well enough.

I read a statistic that said less than 1% of authors seeking representation get signed. 1%! Some agents receive hundreds of submissions a day, and they are tasked with reading through each of them and picking out the best. It’s a demanding job, and if your work doesn’t catch their eye just so, then they’ll move on to someone else.

So, what can you do with those rejections start pouring in? Me, I took it personally. I got depressed. I moped. I cried. I wondered if it was worth it to keep trying. I convinced myself that I would never amount to anything.

Then I got up. I made concrete decisions about what I needed to do to move forward. I put that project away. I got back to work on my current project. I started this blog. I set new goals and new deadlines. I reached out to family and friends for encouragement.

Rejections feel like the end of the world. They’re not. Everyone tells you that, but you don’t understand it until you go through it. Mope if you need to. Cry if you need to. Then pick yourself up and keep moving forward.

Feel free to share your own experiences in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you.