That Moment When It Clicks

We all have those moments when it clicks. When doing suddenly becomes infinitely easier.

Perhaps it’s the moment when you are learning to ride a bike and you finally make more than a few inches before scraping your knee.

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About how it’s going teaching my daughter.

Maybe it’s the moment when you can finally see the image a differential equation represents without needing a graphing calculator. Yeah, that moment didn’t happen for me either.

A friend of mine makes and sells jewelry, and she has repeatedly told me how she’ll be bombarded by ideas one day and then will have no ideas for weeks after. She has to quickly write down the ideas as they come because they are flashes of inspiration. If she doesn’t write them down, they’re gone.

I have my own experience with this on a regular basis. My muse comes and visits me, and together, we can produce one-thousand words in less than an hour. Good words. Stuff that will get refined, but stuff that I think will still be there in the final draft.

Then, there’s the days she doesn’t visit. Like a Saturday not long ago where I managed to squeeze in three hours of writing. I got less than a thousand words during those three hours, and I’m not sure any of them are good.

Magic

But, I did get them down. So, progress. I can edit something that exists, but I can’t edit a blank page.

Still, I understand why people get discouraged. When the muse is here, we can create in hours what would take days of toil. Yet, those days of toil are still important.

You don’t get to ride the bike without the hours of learning put in beforehand. You don’t understand the differential equations in a moment unless you’re that one kid in my second semester calc class. Okay, maybe you never understand them completely, but if you don’t do the work to get there, you’ll never have the chance understand them.

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Yeah, I know they’re not differential equations.

I sometimes think this is what inspiration is all about. Basically, the motivational poster that says it’s 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration, yet, I think it’s true even if I’m not much for motivational posters.

I’m trying to treat the hour my muse visits me as the reward for the previous three hours of grinding work. If I just wait for her, she won’t come. She’s waiting for me to put in the work before giving my prize. Maybe I’m right on this, or maybe its complete garbage to make me feel better, but at least it gets stuff done.

 

How about you? Do you find you have to struggle for things and then there’s a magic moment where it clicks? Do you wait for inspiration, or do you plod through? Maybe you were the kid in the back of my class that just “got” differential equations so your muse is always ready to go?

 

 

Facing Rejection

I hear myself telling DD1 all the time that it doesn’t matter if she succeeds or fails, I’m proud of her for trying her hardest. For really putting in the effort. She sometimes believes me, and other times I get the annoyed preschooler look.

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I totally don’t deserve it.

But, I have to walk the walk now that I’ve written, edited, rewrote, edited, rewrote again, and finally polished Crowned Prince.

I decided I wanted to try getting an agent and go the traditional publishing route if possible. There are pros and cons to both indie publishing and traditional, but I at least wanted to try traditional. Partially for their experience, but mostly for their amazing editors.

I know, I know, but one is not in the budget for us right now. While I take my writing seriously, I also take paying for two kids in daycare seriously. Don’t know if it’s like this everywhere, but where I live, my daycare bill is about twice the cost of an average mortgage payment. So, yeah, not much else is in the budget right now.

If I’m going to find an agent, I need to either meet one at a conference or query one. As a mom with two small children who works full time already, finding time or money for a conference also isn’t in the budget. So that means querying.

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Not this kind of querying.

And being rejected A LOT.

I have a feeling your chances of getting in to Harvard are probably better. After all, they accept 5.2% of their applicants. But, if I want to get an agent, I have to query them.

This is like a lot of things in life.

  • Maybe you don’t like your job, but that means putting yourself out there to find a new one.
  • Maybe you’re single and want to meet someone.
  • Maybe you want to be an actor, but that means showing up for the auditions.

Everything is life is scarce. And the more you want it, the more of yourself you have to put out there to get it.

That means facing the very real risk of rejection. Of failure. Or not being good enough. Talented enough. Just not enough.

The platitude of at least you tried your hardest feels less genuine then, though, really, that’s when it matters most. Trying. Not giving up.

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Persistence in the face of rejection is especially hard when you put so much of yourself into something. Like a job. Or a relationship. Or writing a book. Because this feels like a personal rejection. And we’re a heard animal. It’s ingrained in us to be part of the pack as those that weren’t usually didn’t have a happy ending.

But, I must face failure. I have to try, as I tell my daughter she must.

So I started the process. Looking up agents, trying to see who they represent and what they sell to see if I’ll be a fit. I even queried a few.

And got my first rejection.

It hurt less than I thought it would. But it still hurt.

 

How about you? Ever put yourself out there for something? Maybe a new job? A relationship? A book query? How did it go? Did it go better than you thought? If it didn’t, was the rejection or failure as bad as you thought it’d be?

 

8 Things I've Learned About Being a Writer

The one thing about us writers is, well, we write. I’ve been writing on-and-off since I was twelve, but I’ve been known to put it down altogether for long stretches.

Perhaps you’ve even put it aside from time to time, too.

For me, the longest I stopped writing was when we decided to start a family. There was an amazing amount to do to get our lives ready and *so* much to read.

Why don’t babies actually follow what’s in the books?!?  Do you know how many times I showed my infant what the “experts” had written as she continued to never sleep unless she was being held?

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Even with all this preparation, we were totally unprepared for the realities of being parents.

I fell into the routine many new mothers do and spent very little time on myself. If I wasn’t at work, I was with our little one.

After my second daughter was born, I watched a lot of TED talks. They were interesting, and they didn’t mess with my new-mom emotions. This one by Larry Smith , convinced me to start writing again. I literally got an old notebook that afternoon and started jotting down ideas.

I attempted to write that story. I mapped it all out, complete with plot and character outlines, applied bottom to chair, and churned out 50k words in five months.

Then shelved it.

The characters weren’t working. The plot was there but forced, even though I’d diligently followed my outlines.

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Except, you know, when they don’t.

I tried revising it, but my hero would’ve rolled his eyes at me if he could. It wasn’t his story. I’d been so busy sticking to my plot-points and outlines that I hadn’t listened to the characters.

I gave up and started a new novel. I plotted nothing. I let the story unfold as I wrote it. I completed the first 50k draft in three months. It was a rough first draft. Very, very rough. But it worked, and I loved the characters. I wanted to see them get together.

I still remember the climactic ending coming to me as I was driving to work after dropping the kids off at daycare, and I had to pull the car over and write it down before I forgot it. That’s when I knew the story was really working.

I’ve managed to write three more full novels in the year-and-a-half since, in addition to my full-time day-job, blogging, and two small children. Here’s what’s worked for me:

 

  1. Write Every Day – I’d originally thought the more I wrote, the more burned out I’d get. Not true. It’s amazing how creativity inspires more creativity. Writing is a skill, just like anything else. The more you do it, the better you’ll be. Sure, I can still get on a bike and pedal it, but teaching my oldest child to ride a bike made me realize that the elliptical machine does not keep you in shape for bike riding.

 

  1. Carve out Writing Time and Defend It (Even from Yourself) – My spouse has been amazingly supportive of me getting back into writing, and he’s agreed to be the primary parent for an hour each night after the kids are supposed to be in bed (yeah, you other parents out there know that’s a big “supposed to”). But if I spend that hour surfing the net, I’m stealing the time from my writing as surely as my daughter is stealing my patience when she comes out for her third cup of water.

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  1. Keep a Notebook – my mind does amazing things while I’m walking, driving, or when I first get up in the morning. But those thoughts will dissipate like fog in the noon sun the moment I get back inside, the engine turns off, or I swing my legs out of bed. I need a notebook to write these amazing bits of creativity down. My phone works well for this, too.

 

  1. Perfection Is the Enemy – get that rough draft down on paper. If you want to make changes, make a note of it and keep going. You can polish a rough draft. There’s nothing you can do with a blank page. Finish the story. Crappy is still done and gives you a place to start rewriting.

 

  1. Give Yourself a Couple of Months Before You Edit – This is one of the biggest things I learned with my first completed story. I was too close to the characters, the plot, and even the writing itself. I spent a lot of time “editing” that was really just patting myself on the back for what I’d written. When I went back and looked at it two months later, I had a much clearer view of what needed help.

 

  1. Find a Good Beta Reader – a good beta reader is worth their weight in Starbucks. They’ll help you see plot holes, character issues, and other things you’re too invested in your book to see. If you’ve got a good beta reader, of course you’re going to follow their advice even if it means a painful rewrite.

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  1. Read, but Read Critically – Lots of writing advice says you have to read a lot to be a good writer. I think this is over-simplified. Reading is helpful only if you take the time to figure out why one author engages you but another doesn’t. Why do you like a character, hate them, or think they’re too stupid to breathe? Why are you on the edge of your seat reading this thriller but not that one?

 

  1. Take What Works for You and Toss out the Rest. Writing is a creative endeavor. What inspires my muse may drive yours away. Some writers swear by an outline, whereas it brings out my type A personality.

 

 

How about you? Any good writing tips you’d like to share? Anything that’s worked for you? Anything that hasn’t?

 

Critquing Manuscripts: 3 Things I Have Learned

I have learned quite a few things, but here are the top three things I have learned so far from critiquing, beta reading and editing other people’s manuscripts.

 

Characters

I have read a lot about characters and how they need to drive a story. They need motivation. Foibles. Secrets. Whatever.

Here’s something else. I need to like the protagonist. Or at least sympathize with them. I need to want them to reach their goal. Otherwise, I’m putting the book away.

This might not be true for every genre, but I write, read and critique romance.  If the hero is a jerk or the heroine unlikable… Well, you just lost me as an audience.RedRiding

This also applies to secondary and tertiary characters, but to a lesser extent. I’d still like to know if the heroine’s “friend” really is. When characters are written a certain way, it has ramifications. And I’m going to want to see a nasty “friend” get her comeuppance by the end. If she doesn’t, I’m going to feel as if there’s loose ends not tied off.

 

Dialogue

There are rules to dialogue. They really do need to be followed to make work understandable.

Also, I find it ideal to take a moment to read dialogue out loud. Not all of it, but at least a few conversations. If it doesn’t read easily, if it doesn’t sound like real people talking, it probably needs some work. If one area needs work or sounds stilted, other areas probably do, too.

In my world, people don’t make a snarky comment and get their reply 5 minutes later after everyone in the room has contemplated its meaning.

 

World Building

I have read a lot of advice telling writers not to give a lot of exposition about the world, even if it’s science fiction or fantasy. Let the world take shape around the characters.World

I get it. I hate exposition and tend to skim it. But, I still need to know where we are and if this is a fictional world, our world, or some hybrid. I’ve finished entire first chapters and still have not known. That’s an issue. I should feel like I am there with the character, and part of that, is knowing where I am.

First Draft – Done!

I finished the first draft! It has a beginning, middle and end. All written.

It is only 55,000 words. It’s skeletal. It needs lots of beefing up. Some character development, especially for the heroine. I need a bit of foreshadowing. I need to introduce the end Villain sooner so he doesn’t feel contrived. I need to work on one section in particular as little happens there, and stuff should, but inspiration wasn’t coming. It will, but I didn’t want to lose the end of the story that my muse had shown me. And when the words are flowing, I try to take them whatever part of the story they’re writing.

Wheeeee! It’s done. I need a few minutes to bask in the glory of accomplishment. Nope, it’s not ready for anyone else to read. Nope, it’s not anywhere ready for submission. I have a long slog ahead with revisions. But I finished that glorious first draft that gives me the raw material to cut, polish and shine.

Time to put it aside, let the characters percolate, and start revising the piece that is close to submission ready. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be nice to visit some “old friends” and make their story richer with some scenic details. I mean, who doesn’t want to really smell the swamp they characters are riding through!

 

Time: My Cruel Mistress

The synopsis is mostly done. I wrote it, revised a couple of times, and then sent it to my beta readers. They got back to me on changes, I made them, and sent it out for a final read as I made more than just their changes. So helpful to me to have a second set of eyes look at something, especially as they have both read the story.

Next step is to go through and make the changes my brother in law noted.  I have been working on my other piece and am currently 30k words into it. It’s been flowing lately, even if my characters aren’t doing what I had plotted for them to do. Still, it’s been a fun ride. This is the exciting part where things are happening and coming together. Not always as expected, not without a ton of rewrites lurking ahead, but still fun. I was so not expecting my cold and ruthlessly practical character to demand to do certain things I had thought totally out of character. He corrected me, and explained if he wants something, he is damn well going to get it. He’ll figure out a way. Like I said, so fun when the characters are coming to life.

But it gets back to one of my biggest challenges writing. Time. I want more time to revise that first story, more time to pour through agents to query, more time to work on the raw and unformed but exciting new piece. That doesn’t mention the time I wish I had to read novels, study other authors, and work to perfect my craft.

I love my family.

Need my day job.

Can’t go without sleep indefinitely (though both my kids have tested to see how long I can go).

Laundry waits for no one

Find it hard to ignore the howl of the internet, especially with everything happening in the presidential race, over in the middle east, etc.

I’m supposed to exercise

. . . I could go on.

The timing of my inspiration to take up writing again doesn’t help. Babies are just high maintenance. The kind of maintenance that cries at 2am for no reason, refuses to go to sleep until 10pm, and scares you witless with pneumonia.

Some things I can do better on to garner more time. I recently deleted a couple of apps off my iPad that were sucking way too much time. But others? Just not going to happen. The kids need my time and attention, and I want to give it to them. They are only going to be this little once. And we all have to eat, so keeping my day job.

It does bring home some advice I had read saying to make sure your manuscript is as perfect as you can get it before sending it off. Because if a publisher does bite, you are suddenly on their schedule and not yours. You are their day job. Time becomes even more precious.

There’s a not so secret part of me that wishes my work was amazing enough and I was lucky enough that my first novel would be a break out success and I could quit my day job. Realism, however, is a cruel mistress. I’ll be fortunate to get published at all, and most writers are doing well if they earn back the advance on their books. Most of those advances won’t support a family for long.

I suppose this is true for most hobbyists. It stings to think of my writing as a hobby given how seriously I take it, but really, that’s what it is.

We’d all like more time for these pursuits. I know people who enjoy horseback riding, basketball, and jewelry making. None of them feel like they have enough time for their passions either.

Do what you can with what you have.

Let’s see if I can get that book revised soon so I can package it up for its first round of rejections.