Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dreaming Up Words

I am a vivid dreamer. Like waking up still stuck in a dream in a whirlwind of powerful emotions and having the harsh reality that it was, in fact, only a dream. It happens more times than not and it’s nothing short of a completely jarring event. Especially when I’m pulled from such a wondrous experience by two little ducks (aka my children) who have no idea what volume control is. What a way to start the day, right?

There’s a reason for this other life, though. Books. Because of all the hats I wear (remember last month’s post?), most of my reading is done at night, just before bed. Right now I’m on the last book of The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare, which may explain why automatons are roaming my dreamscape or why I’m having to choose between two guys I love. Intense reading makes for more intense dreams makes for more intense waking. It’s a cycle, but I wouldn't dare break it, even with the startled and sometimes extremely lost feeling I wake with.

Because I *try* to see the bright side to things like this and I’m a very emotional person, the first thing I do...well, wait, second, because the first is to satisfy those little ducks long enough so there can be a sit down at my computer and type up a blurb about the dream. Any details I can remember at all- colors, dialog, physical descriptions, intense feelings, the basic gist of what took place, etc. And most of the time it just spills out in a half decipherable blob of word vomit. But it’s out of my head and it usually helps soothe that empty feeling that bridges my two worlds. Usually.

When those mixed emotions still linger and the word vomit keeps replaying in my mind, it starts to expand until a storyline unfolds. It’s really a quite beautiful thing, if you ask me. What better way for a story to develop than while I’m asleep and my mind is relaxed enough to wonder and muster up its own fantastic creation? Really, this is how my first manuscript came to be. It started as a dream-inspired, word vomit blob. And then there was another blob and another and another until the story started working itself out between them. My current WiP? Another intense dream spurred the idea. The same thing with the countless other documents I have saved on my computer, just waiting to be expanded on.

This is how I find my inspiration. I read and then I dream. And it’s that desire to continue being lost in those dreams that drives me to write as a way of recapturing and extending the emotions I feel while reading and sleeping. In a way, I almost feel indebted to the fabulous authors that keep me up reading late at night and in turn keep me sleeping later than I should because I can’t get the emotional bubbles to pop long after powering down my Kindle. One of these days, I hope to be the inspiration behind someone else’s vivid dreaming. But until then, I’ll be more than content to keep dreaming up words on my own.

Are you a vivid dreamer?

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Oh, Waiting.

I'm going to make this quick, because if some of you didn't know, I recently gave birth to a beautiful and perfect little girl! Wanna see? 

Isn't she adorable?! :)

Anyway, back to the real blog post. I wanted to talk about waiting today. How hard waiting is. I don't think it ever gets easier, no matter where you are in your writing journey. Waiting for critique partners to respond, waiting for a query or contest response, waiting to hear from your agent, and so on. 

Right now, I'm waiting to hear back from my agent. This is not to say she's taking too long to respond or anything like that. But that's why waiting is so hard. Even short waits can feel so long. 

So what do you do during the wait? 

For me, I try to keep busy to keep from going crazy and obsessing. (Ha. Like I don't obsess anyway.) Luckily for me though, I now have my little bundle of cuteness to take care of and obsess over. I'm also getting back into my WiP which helps to take my mind off the wait.

Waiting is always hard, especially when you're so eager to for a response, or the next step, or whatever it is you're wanting. But keeping busy is the way I deal with waiting and I find that it really helps to keep me from getting over anxious or obsessive. 

What about all of you? Do you keep busy while you're waiting? Do you have a different coping mechanism? Or do you just turn into a giant ball of anxiety while you wait, like I would if I didn't keep busy?

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

It never gets easier - and that's OK!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from drafting novels, it’s that the idea that it gets easier with each book is a myth. Every book brings a new set of problems, but I’ve found that every book also teaches me something new about writing.

My first novel, which was a long and rambling mess I started when I was 14, taught me two things: the importance of planning; and great characters do not a great novel make. I’d invented the characters when I was only 9 and they recurred in most short stories I wrote, but I knew they were destined for a greater purpose: a novel. The problem was that I was very good at starting stories, but terrible at finishing them. They either dwindled or were abandoned. At some point I realised: I’d have to start actually planning my books if I ever wanted a hope of finishing them! So I learnt the importance of outlining. I also learned the importance of writing every day, and sticking to one path. The constant changes had left my first novel a complete mess, but I knew that there was something salvageable in there.

But there were more things I’d neglected in the process of writing this first book, which was planned as the first in a long series: world-building, for one. I kept changing ideas for future books based on whims and every time, I’d need to rewrite most of the first book. But I never got to the heart of the problem: I didn’t really know anything about the world I’d set my books in! Not good. But when I came to rewrite that same book a few years later, I’d discovered the wonderful world of the Internet, and found a fantastic set of worldbuilding questions which really helped. Progress!

I also discovered the ‘snowflake method’ of planning a novel, which Kimberly mentioned in her last post. This was a godsend for me, as I was painfully aware of a problem I’d failed to address – I had a lot of ideas, but no plot. Well, not a clearly defined one, anyway.

So over the course of the next couple of years, I worked on the steps of the ‘snowflake’ – which involves writing a 1-sentence summary of the whole book, then a 1-paragraph summary and character arcs for each of the main players. I knew the characters extremely well, but my perfectionism meant that this took a while! I then tackled the summaries stage, writing 1 page for each book, then expanding to 4 pages per book, and writing summaries from the perspective of each main character. This whole process took about a year. Yep –I didn’t do things by halves! Then came detailed character profiles, and spreadsheets outlining every scene in each book, and more summaries…

If there’s one thing all this taught me, it’s that you can do TOO much planning. That became painfully clear when it came to the point when, after months of drafting, I was ready to send my first novel to agents. I wrote the book in summer 2010, did at least five re-edits and got feedback, rewrote again, honed my query and synopsis…this time, I didn’t do a step wrong, but all I got were rejections. Finally, I sought advice from an industry professional…and was told my idea wasn’t original enough.

Yes. Ten years of work…useless. Or so I thought. This was the next vital lesson: nothing is ever wasted. And it’s true. I shelved that book, but I’ve been borrowing extensively from it ever since. Characters, plot points, ideas. All the same, it was unbelievably hard to start a new project completely from scratch after so many years living in this world. But that turned out to be a good thing. My new book, The Puppet Spell, taught me the importance of breaking away from old ideas and doing something completely different, and how to put the fun back into writing! I used an outline but didn’t do anywhere near as much intense planning as I had with my last book, with the result that I had a complete blast with this one. There were moments of uncertainty and I did have to do a lot of rewriting, but ultimately, it was fun. It’s sometimes easy to forget that there’s more to writing than getting published, and publication wasn’t in mind at all when I wrote the book.

Now I approach all my projects the same way: I write an outline and do all the worldbuilding beforehand, but the first draft retains that wonderful feeling of adventure – and the fear that comes with it! Each book has its own challenges – I’ve written four series books and each has been a slightly different experience, and now I’m working on a standalone in a genre I’ve never written in before. I’ve now written seven books and each has brought new challenges and fears, and I can confidently say that it doesn’t get easier. But that can be a good thing!

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Monday, August 19, 2013

The Research of Writing

Whenever I think about my work-in-progess, my stomach turns a bit with anxious excitement. I'm convinced my WIP is going to rock -- that is, it will rock whenever I get to actually writing it. As of now, I'm in the research phase -- a never-ending period of note-taking, interlibrary loans, browsing Ebay for authentic historical artifacts and interviewing relatives about their high school English assignments. Not only am I conducting research reminiscent of my college days as a history major, but I have to outline the novel (using the fantastic Snowflake Method I have come to love) as well. I need to know my characters as if they were real people. I have to discover my hook and inciting incident and I have to outline my scenes. All this is time-consuming and it means I'm planning and not adding to my word count -- which makes me feel like I'm not writing at all. Because I'm not. I'm doing research.

My WIP is a YA murder mystery set in 1955 involving a cast of international characters who all live in a boarding house in rural Pennsylvania. My list of research questions seem endless. I need to know 1950s pop culture, food, slang and clothing. I also need to know what teenagers in the 1950s did for fun. What books were they assigned in English class? Where would they go to college? For instance, did you know Harvard University only admitted males until the 1970s? Women went to their sister school, Radcliffe. I know this because I took 2 HOURS worth of notes for 1-2 lines of dialogue.

I spent a couple of hours at my local historical society trying to get information on how boarding houses were run in town. Except, there was very little information to be had. I stopped by my county Sheriff's office to see if it would be possible to look through 1950s case files, but I was informed they don't keep those records on site. I'm dealing with a murder and I need to know about crime scene investigation and police procedures. How long did it take for a police officer to respond to an emergency phone call? Did small towns have detectives? If not, who was called in to investigate? I took the sheriff's business card in order to set up an appointment and I'm hoping he can help me.

I feel like I'm back in college scanning texts for tidbits of info to prove my thesis. Except in this case, facts are not enough. My main protagonist is a 17-year-old girl from Argentina and I need to know how a young immigrant would adapt to 1950s America. What slang would confuse her? How would she feel the first time a boy took her to a drive-in movie theater? What American food would she love or detest? What music would she like? In fact, just writing these questions here is making my head spin. (I need to get my research binder, STAT.)

And my novel has a more sinister component about Nazi war criminals. Nothing like reading about horrific war crimes to get me in a happy mood.

Truthfully, history is my thang. Despite the overwhelming amount of research, there's nothing quite so exciting as discovering a piece of history that jives with your plot twists. But at some point, I have to put down the history books so I can write my own book.

Research is not just for historical fiction. Anyone writing contemporary or fantasy has to do their fair share of research.

So, writers -- how do you balance the research and the writing? Do you research first or outline your novel first? How does it ever get done? And in what area of research do you consider yourself an expert? Sound off below.

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Many Roads, Many Travelers

Life is a journey. That's a cliche we've all heard. It's full of choices and each choice leads us down a road. Roads are different, with their surroundings and gravel or bumps or potholes or dead ends or mud. Sometimes you get stuck. You turn around. You go for miles and miles and miles while you're tired and lost and alone. Publishing is a journey much like this.

This isn't a post about the paths you can take in publishing. We all know there are different paths and not every person will fit or travel down the same one. This post is about journeys and roads and how in life (and in publishing) we all can end up on a road that we didn't imagine for ourselves. This is part of the journey, part of growing, part of living.
Last weekend, I drove my little car all the way to this itty bitty town in North Carolina for a wedding. My freshman year roommate was getting married, and it all worked out so I could go. I was excited -- I hadn't really been in the South in the three(ish) years since I left Nashville! And I hadn't seen two of my friends who I knew would be at the wedding since about then, too. I was excited about all of us being together again for an afternoon, and even more, I was nervous. Mostly because my choices, my roads, have led me far away from that girl I was in college, and I didn't know if we'd be the same together. My plans and my purpose and my beliefs have changed, and would they reject me for that? Would they know me?

Here's the thing: people grow up. And when we grow up, we change. We find new interests, new paths, answers to questions that we'd been asking forever, and sometimes, more questions. Those questions can cause us to wonder about things we thought for sure were the answers. In this aspect, I know I am not the same. When I think about College Danielle and Professional Danielle, I feel that I've changed. I've grown and evolved and been stuck in this place of answerless questions. A place that, sometimes, makes me doubt who I am now, if she is the best version of me that I can be, and what I'm working (so freaking hard) toward and why it all can feel very endless and lonely. Because there are days when it does.

Writers do the same thing. We make the choice to tell this story, to revise it like this, to query it to these people, to publish with a small press or to get an agent or to pursue both, to not settle, to not give up. When we write story A instead of story B, we are putting ourselves on a certain road. When we change this instead of that, a new road. It goes on and on.

Each road leads us to different things. People that we would've met had we done this, we surpass or meet later on when another choice leads our paths to cross. We get stuck because we can't move farther or figure out what happens in the story next. We hit road bumps and potholes of rejection, of failure, of missed opportunities. Some roads lead us uphill and some downhill and some just endless stretches of asphalt and blistering sunshine. And some days, those very, very I-want-to-quit days, we feel alone.

That's the part of all this that I've been seeing over the last month. We're not alone.

You know what happened when I got to that wedding and to the old friends I hadn't seen in years? Nothing. I mean, nothing bad. It was an incredible day. We hadn't spoken in however long, but they knew me. They were supportive and happy and it was as if no time had passed all. It was only minutes before all my worry drifted away. And that fear that I had changed into something else? Someone else? Not true. Sure, the roads I'd traveled and the paths stretched out before me were different than College Danielle had planned -- but I was still me. In fact, I learned that as much as those roads have surprised me, they were no surprise to my friends. They knew I'd end up where I am way before I even realized it was a journey I wanted to start on. And despite the roads and paths and how much I thought I'd changed, the core things that make up who I was and who I am and who I will continue to be are still the same. Even when I don't see them because they are so covered with doubt and cobwebs and worry and pressure.

The most amazing part of the whole thing was realizing that I am not alone. Not in life. Not in writing.

Just because, as writers, we're walking down our own road, a road that no one else can travel with us or experience the same way we do, it does not mean we are alone. There are many, many roads, and on those roads, many more travelers. Our roads may intersect with every traveler, or they may not, but there will always be people we know, people who know us, to support us, and carry us and bring us a drink of water when we are thirsty and drag us along on the blistering, quitting days.

The other great thing about the roads we travel: someone else has already traveled it.

Whether it's in life or in writing, there is no brand new experience. It is new for us, and unique to us, but it's also probably something that someone else has experienced. Agent split? Someone's been there. New agent? Someone's been there. 8 revisions? Someone's been there. Failed acquisition: someone's been there. Book release. Months of editing. Crying. Disappointment. Writer's block: Someone's been there. If you're a parent or a teacher or a student or a musician: someone has been where you are.

There will always be people who are where you are. Each of us are in a unique position to reach out. (Especially in a small community like publishing!)

I was telling my #TeamDani authors a few weeks ago that they all have each other. Kelsey had mentioned this feeling of loneliness in her vlog and it really spoke to me. Because it is lonely, sometimes, and it doesn't have to be. (I really don' t know why we let it be or why we do that to ourselves and/or other writers.) I told my authors that they have the same editor at the same press in the same time period--that's a thing that connects them to each other. Some of them are further along in the process than others, which just means that they've been there already. They are all connected and experiencing something that one of the others has felt or is feeling, in a way that is all their own. All that means is that we have no excuse to feel alone.

We forget this a lot as we are following our road because we can't see the parallel roads beyond the trees or hear the cries from them because they get lost in the breeze. We feel like we can't talk to each other, can't be real about our loneliness or our struggle, and that's ridiculous! We need each other.

We are made to journey together - in life and in publishing and along whatever road you are following. I think the only way we can survive the long, long roads is to realize that. And, once we realize that, to speak out, to reach out, to celebrate together, and to make sure that we each have someone who can walk with us when we feel alone.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Subjectivity is Out of Control!

Last night Danielle and I did a live Google Hangout with the amazing WriteOnCon! (Seriously, amazing doesn’t even cover it! It is still going on today – go here for the best writer’s conference on the internet! And bonus: it’s free!) The attendees pitched their books on Twitter, which is incredibly challenging at only 140 characters, and we had our live reactions and advice aired for the entire world to see (in fact, it has been immortalized on YouTube and you can watch it here, if you like!)

We had an absolute blast working with the phenomenal team that runs WriteOnCon and were so grateful to all of the amazing writers who came out and took a leap to share what their story is about and have their pitch critiqued live. That takes guts and we got so many amazing entries! 

We talk a lot in the video about what makes a good pitch, so I thought instead I would talk today about subjectivity and how it relates to your path in publishing. I’m only going to touch on the second topic briefly, if you are looking for a far better explanation of your publishing path choices please read The Daily Dahlia post on it here!

So while the list of things in publishing that are out of a writer’s control is extensive, I think one of the greatest is subjectivity. When you think about it, every single step of the process is subjective: From your first thoughts about your own work, to what you change based on your crit partners’ thoughts, to what agents think, to what editors think, and all the way down the line and including what readers think! Subjectivity is completely beyond control, even internally for most! People like what they like, connect with what they connect with, and on the flip side don’t like what they don’t like. Sometimes there are really strong eloquent reasons for these feelings and other times it’s just a feeling, no explanation. 

The important thing to remember while lamenting your inability to control subjectivity (or maybe that’s just me…) is that, with a few notable exceptions, NO ONE IS WRONG. As an editor, I receive pitches and manuscripts from agents on a daily basis and how I feel about them is dependent on an infinite number of factors including, but by no means limited to: What do I feel like reading right now? What was the last thing I read in this genre? Did I love that or hate it? Is this a concept that sounds unique to me? Are the comps titles/movies/etc. things I recognize and like? Did I eat breakfast this morning? Is it raining outside? The list could seriously go on forever.

For this reason I always give myself multiple days to consider submissions AND have numerous members of my team read books that I’m interested in to make sure that the things that are sparking my interest about this particular book are going to do the same OUTSIDE of my head. Sometimes I get feedback that is perfectly in line with how I was feeling and sometimes it’s completely the opposite. But more often than not, it falls somewhere in the middle and the acquisitions team gets involved to add their business-related thoughts to the decision. It’s a team effort, and it has to be, because when the books go out into the world they are going to encounter a vast number of wonderful readers and we want to find the books that those readers are going to love.

That being said, there are non-work related, published books I’ve read and loved like they had been written for my soul alone that other people thought were rubbish. And there are books that’s I’ve thought were terrible and other people felt as though they are the answer to all of life’s most pressing questions. And all of the things that come into play about how I feel about a submission and more play into how a reader feels about a book. I have definitely had books that I DNF’ed because I just wasn’t feeling them, that later I read and adored. It’s all about timing and mood. Both things out of an authors’ control. 

The best thing you can do? Write the most amazing book you can! There are books out there so incredible they blow this entire post out of the water because they transcend timing and mood and are just ALWAYS amazing. They are the books that readers go back to again and again to get them out of a reading slump or to remind them of how amazing they felt the first time they read it. And writing that amazing book is totally within the author’s control! (Bottom line: YOU CAN DO IT!)
The last thing I want to mention is your publishing path with regard to subjectivity. Just like no two books are exactly the same, no two publishing paths are going to be perfectly identical. The number of drafts you write, queries you send, rejections you get, offers you get, etc. is going to vary drastically from everyone else. But it is SO critical to remember that rejection DOES NOT equal failure. 

If you send out 10 queries and get one offer, that doesn’t mean you failed 9 times, it means it took you 10 tries to find the RIGHT person.  The same is true if you send out 500 queries before you get an offer. All that means is that you were waiting to find the RIGHT agent or editor at exactly the RIGHT moment for your book. And when you find that agent or editor that GETS your book and loves your writing, all the other subjectivity and rejections you waded through to get there will fade into the background as stepping stones on your path. 

What are your thoughts on subjectivity in publishing? Do you think there are ways to influence it? Does it affect how/what you write? What are the books that you can read, in any mood or at any time, that are always amazing no matter how many times you read them?

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Critique Partners are GOLD

You know those people you just can't live without? The ones you text when you need help or call when you have great news. The same ones you cheer on when something amazing happens for them. Well, I want to gush on those people in my writing life. That's right, I'm talking about critique partners.

It took me a good bit of time to find my current critique partners (Shout out to Sally) and I'm glad I took my time to find people I really mesh with well. I think that's important because when you find a really great CP, they're someone you want to stick with on more than just the current MS you're looking to get fresh eyes on.

Plus, they see your first draft word vomit. You trust these people and they trust you. And you hope that when you get that amazing idea in the middle of the night or write that awesome chapter after being awake for 72 hours that they don't crush your spirit... even if that idea or chapter was well... crap. Or maybe that's just me. While I have thick skin and can take (and love) critique, I prefer it to not be with a "you suck."

Which brings me to my next point. There are so many different types of critique partners. What type are you? I think I'm more of a the cheerleader type, but you'd have to ask my CPs if that's what they think too!

So where do you find awesome CPs? There are websites all over the internet dedicated to finding critique partners. I really like CPseek. If you're looking for a CP, check them out! And when trying a new CP out, I suggest exchanging just your first chapters to start, so you can see if you will mesh well with each other.

So, where did you find your CP? What type of CP do you look for? What type are you? How has having a CP changed your writing?

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Monday, August 5, 2013

Freaking Out and Trying to Keep Calm

I'm late!

Hello Wonderfuls.

I was supposed to write an inspiring and witty blogpost yesterday but, as often happens, life got in the way. Here's a small peak of what happened and perhaps a little lesson tucked in at the end.

It's August, which means it's that crazy and mystical time period where everyone in New York City decides to change apartments--all at once. There's brokers and realtors and landlords galore. And plenty of apartment searchers but not necessarily enough apartments (or at least not at the price you can actually afford). For people like me this spells prime time to stress out. I'm looking at my bank account and bemoaning over the sadness of a 2012 tax return that doesn't show nearly enough of my income to validate how I've survived in NYC for 6 going on 7 years. Why can't I just give them my resume? I haven't had only one job since sophomore year in high school. My occupations are as plentiful as the many hats that I wear.

So I'm freaking out a little bit, but less so than I was yesterday. I called my mom and re-realized the INSANE support system that I have back in Florida. She suggested a book to me, which I'm going to suggest to you (but with a bit of a disclaimer). It's called The Game of Life and How to Play It by Florence Scovel Shinn. This book illustrates positive ways of thinking in order to attain what you want in life. Imagine it and it will be. Sounds too easy? It is and I'm not doing the concept nearly enough justice. But it makes sense. Our brains are these scary, wonderful things that can literally create realities out of electrical synapses and if we feed into negativity and we surround ourselves with it, than that's all we see, that's all we have.

Here's my disclaimer: It's very Christian. If Jesus Christ and God and Bible quoting bother you to the extent that you can't read to the deeper point, forgo this book. Otherwise, approach with an open mind and things could get interesting.

Talking to my mom and beginning to read this book have calmed me down quite a bit. I just (like 30 minutes ago) put in an application for an amazing apartment and I'm finally calm enough to get some writing done. We should never get so stressed out that we lose time for ourselves and our art.

So go on Amazon and buy this book. I paid $0.99 for a Kindle version and it's delightful and I'm still reading it. But mostly: CALM DOWN. And maybe call your mom.

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