Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Way We Are: Groups, Organizations, and Partners, Oh, My!

Writing may be a solitary thing, but I'm pretty sure that most of us don't keep it solitary. We get by with a little help from our friends. (And I want to know if you were able to read that line without the tune going through your head. Seriously.)

Some of the very best kind of friends to help your craft come from Writing Groups / Critique Groups, Writing Organizations, and Critique Partners.

I want to hear about yours! Are you part of a critique group? How long has your group been together? How about critique partners? Have you joined any writing organizations? If you have, now's your chance to pimp them. Tell us what you love about them! Tell us how they've helped you! Is it an organization you'd recommend others join? Is it worth the money?

My answer: 
I am in a critique group, and the five of us meet weekly. We've been together for a little over three years. I wouldn't ever think of writing a book that anyone was going to read without them. They help immensely!

I am also a member of SCBWI. I've heard they are a fantastic group, but I can't say that I've taken advantage of what they offer too much yet, though. If you write YA/MG/PB, they are definitely tops. And I've heard their conferences are AMAZING! They do one in Los Angeles, and one in New York every year. Someday.... SOMEDAY, I will go to the New York one. Hello! Publishing Capitol of the world! Largest children's writers organization putting it on! **Pauses to imagine the photo bombing that could go on there.** Anyone want to join me? How fun would that be?!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The secret reason behind why I didn't post yesterday.

You may or may not have noticed that I didn't post yesterday. Unannounced. For the first time ever. Rest assured, there was a good reason.

You see, early Sunday morning I got a call from a dear friend who had tickets to the Red Carpet at the Oscars. When an unfortunate incident happened involving a sick cat, a disgruntled doorman, and an angry mother-in-law, she could no longer use her ticket, so she gave it to me.

Which, of course, I gladly accepted! I hopped on the next plane to LA and headed straight for the Red Carpet. I didn't bother to change first, because there really wasn't much time. Plus, red: timeless. It's not like people are going to be looking at these pics years from now, thinking about how red is SO out.

I was TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY EXCITED to be at the Oscars! I couldn't help but let my excitement show!

(Except then they corralled me and stuck me in a seat, until they could figure out why some dude was sitting in the seat I was supposed to be in.) Oh, my gosh. You wouldn't believe how fascinating those Oscar statues are! They sparkle like a vampire in sunlight. No, more like someone spilled glitter on them.

Eventually, I started rubbing myself against the statue, so I could sparkle, too. And that's when they moved me closer to my seat. I was sure they'd figure out the seating thing soon. In the mean time, though, I had to admit: I had a great view of the red carpet. (I don't care what they say about your dress looking a tad matronly, Sarah Hyland. I think it looks fabulous.)

It was nice, and all, sitting right there. But not as much fun as I had when I was out in the mix of things. Plus, those actors can really strike a pose! I decided to try my hand at it.

I only got in one pose, though, before they worked out the seating thing. The seat was great and all, except for the wall between me and the actors, of course. But the person sitting next to me was FASCINATING! I chatted a lot.

And then you wouldn't believe who I saw! That one guy from Napoleon Dynamite! I swear, he's right over there. I am staring at him right now!

Man, I sure wish the cameraman would've gotten the two of us together in the same picture. That would've been awesome.

So, as you can see, between the jet lag and the flash photography sickness, there was really no way I could post yesterday.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

And many thanks to Erin Summerill Photography for convincing me to into the variety of poses so conducive to photo bombing, in the same photo shoot that not only netted me my profile picture, but the spread of family pictures hanging on the wall in my home.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Quotes and Cookies: Value of Life

"The value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use we make of them; a man may live long yet live very little."

~Michel de Montaigne

I totally and completely agree with de Montaigne. It's one of the reasons I really can't stand to waste a single day. There's not an infinite number of days, and if we waste one here and one there, we may find after several years that we've lived very little.

I've had an intense and mentally exhausting week. By the time I got my kids to bed Wednesday-- the third equally exhausting day in a row-- I crashed. Even though I hadn't even written the next day's post yet. I woke up Thursday morning, came into my office, sat at my computer, opened Blogger... and just stared. Then thought, "I can't do this right now. Maybe I'll comment on comments." I opened the comments, and thought "No. I seriously can't even do that." Then email. Same results. Then my WIP. Same.

I was spent.

So I showered early. Then responded to a few emails. Then woke up my kids and got them to school. I actually had the entire day to spend on writing / writing-related stuff. Instead, I responded to a couple more emails. Then some laundry. FOUR hours after I woke up, my blog post. A little housework, a little computer work. Back and forth. Before I knew it, it was time to get my kids from school, and I'd accomplished almost nothing.

Why do I bring this up? Because I should've kicked my butt into gear and forced my brain to give me some decent output no matter how exhausted I was? No. Not at all. Sometimes the thing you most need is a break. I should've taken one. Instead, I half-worked on writing. I half-worked on my house. At the end of the day, everything was only half-done, and I can't say I had recovered. It's like I got 1/4 of a normal day's work done, 1/4 a day of recovering done.... and 1/2 a day just plain GONE.

I guess my point is this: Your day is best spent when you make the best use of WHATEVER you are doing. If you are writing, give it your all. If you are working on a to-do list long enough it must've felled several trees, give it your all. If you're spending the day with loved ones, give it your all. If you are taking a break, rejuvenating, recovering-- give it your all. Whatever you do, when you give it your all, it's a day well spent.

I wish I'd remembered that yesterday.

So what are your plans today? I'm going to crit and write and NOT repeat yesterday.

Here. Have a cookie! They help you get everything done you want to get done. Because cookies are magic. (And these are the last Valentine's cookies. I promise. Until next February, when I get to go crazy again. :))

Photo Credit:

Happy weekend! May your day be of good use.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Blogger How To Questions

I want to do a Blogger tips / tricks / fixes segment on my blog soon. Now, I know that not everyone who blogs uses Blogger blogs, but does seem to be the majority. (Plus, my posts on how to do things in other blogging programs would be about as helpful as a computer without a keyboard. Or a mouse. Or a touch screen.)

I blogged on Blogger for years before starting this blog, so it's possible I'll know some answers to your questions. And if I don't: I just happen to not be afraid of research! That, and I have a husband who's crazy smart. He comes in quite handy.

So I'd love to hear what things you think would be helpful!
  • Things about images?
  • Links? 
  • Posts? 
  • Sidebars?
  • How to turn off that annoying captcha? (And never fear. Blogger is freaking amazing at weeding about the spam comments for you. FREAKING AMAZING. Seriously.)
  • Things you've seen on other people's blog that you'd love to know how to do on yours? 
  • Crazy things Blogger does that you don't know how to fix? 
  • Things you've wished it could do, but you're convinced it can't do?
Let me know any questions, and I'll do my best to do a post on them. I know that not all questions will come to your mind right at this second, so if you come across any while blogging, come back or email me.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Way We Are: Blogfests

There are a lot of blogfests* going around right now.

(*Don't know what a blogfest is? It's basically this: A blogger / group of bloggers decide on a cool topic, make an awesome image depicting the name of the blogfest, then invite others to join and post about that topic on the same day / same week / over a period of several weeks. You can go to the blog of the host(s), and sign up on their linky list. Then you can click on everyone else's link in the list to see what they wrote about that same subject. Make sense?)

I want to know what you guys think about them! Can't say no to any of them? Don't care? Love them with the fierceness of a thousand starving tigers? Haven't ever participated because you're unsure? Haven't participated because you're not a fan? If you've participated, what made you want to?

I've only participated in two. Sometimes, though, I feel like I'm missing out on all the fun! There's a blogfest I'm considering-- the Blogging from A to Z one. Anyone else doing it? If I'm understanding it right, your first post title starts with an A (or the subject is strongly A-centered). The second day is a B and so on. It has potential to be a lot of fun! But then I think, Ugh. I'll have to post on Saturdays. But then I think, But what if I see everyone's awesome posts? It'll totally make me wish I had.

I swear I'm not this indecisive on everything, guys. Really.

(But obviously I could use a little help being swayed one way or the other. Plus, there's the whole bandwagon effect that can be pretty powerful.)

So I guess I have two questions. 1) How do you feel about blogfests and 2) How do you feel about the A to Z one specifically? Feel free to answer one or both. Or neither. I heart lurkers, too. :)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I've Got a Theory: Of real life and hand models

When I was in 5th grade, my parents realized I could paint, and signed me up for the only painting class around-- with an instructor who taught landscape painting. I began to look at the world through the eyes of a painter. Sometimes I'd look at a crazy tree or an incredibly strange sunset and think, If I ever painted that, it would look like I messed up. No one would ever believe that actually occurred in real life!

To illustrate my point, I've taken to hand modeling. Only instead of showing how soft my hands are after using a certain dish soap, I posed in the craziest ways possible.

(Clearly, I have led the life of a bona fide HAND MODEL.)

Crazy, right? But as you can see, also TOTALLY REAL. (Different length fingernails and all.) HOWEVER, if I were to sketch any of these poses, even if I got them completely right, you'd think I was a crap artist, right? Because really, it wouldn't look correct at all.

Which brings me to my theory.

Just like some landscapes (or crazy hands) wouldn't be believable in a painting, 
some things that happen in real life wouldn't be believable in a book.

We work REALLY HARD to make things believable in our books, right? We set things up like crazy, foreshadow, and bring out the parts of our characters' personalities that need to be brought out before certain scenes. That way, when we have larger-than-life scenes/issues/conflicts, they feel right. Like the book just wouldn't be perfect without it. We might want it to surprise our reader, but at the same time, we want it to have felt inevitable the whole time.

In real life, everything is set up, foreshadowed, and personalities are completely developed. And some things STILL don't seem believable! So I guess it's not surprising that real-life things a lot of times don't work when we transfer them to a book.

Have you ever tried to add a real-life crazy story in your manuscript (or read one in a novel), and found that it just really didn't work? I'm not talking about the normal, true-to-life things, but the crazy can-you-believe-that-just-happened things. Do you think there can be a place for them if you set it up right?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Nope, not a LIFE lesson. A WRITING lesson.

You know how kids can teach adults life lessons? Well the other day, my nine year old daughter taught a pretty darn impressive WRITING lesson.

She wrote a story called, MOM? DAD? IS THAT YOU? The story is about a fourth grade girl whose parents died at the dinner table when she was five. Simultaneous brain tumors, apparently. She didn't have other family, so she went to live in an orphanage. She kept that fact a secret so kids wouldn't tease her.

One day, though, a mean kid found out and told everyone. The MC was upset and ran home to an empty orphanage. Not a soul in site. She was a little freaked, so when she heard the knocking on the door, she was fairly relieved. UNTIL she opened the door and saw a couple of zombies! They knocked her out, apparently right before everyone else arrived back at the orphanage. She awoke to orphan casualties abounding and the zombies closing in on her. In the midst of the literal fight of her life, she noticed a certain familiarity about the zombies. She said, "Mom? Dad? Is that you?"

Yes, apparently it was.

My daughter gets the concept that when a person gets turned into a creature such as a zombie, it's no longer that person. Still, though, I wondered at her choices. We get along great! But was there some kind of parental issue I was unaware of that made her choose to have her MC fight her parents? So I asked.

Me: I love it! Why were the zombies her parents, though? I've gotta say, I'm a little weirded out by that.

Her: [In such a logical, thought-out voice] Zombies are bad. If I had just put that they were any old zombies, WHO CARES if she has to fight them? It would be just like any other zombie story. If it's someone that she recognizes, it's harder for her, and makes my story have SO MUCH MORE CONFLICT.

Yes, those were her exact words.

So there you go. Writing advice from a 9 year old. Make things harder for your characters, and you'll add more conflict to your story. And possibly impress your mom beyond words at the same time.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Quotes and Cookies: Unable to say

For those of you who asked to know how it went last night when I talked to Brandon Sanderson's class, it was awesome, surreal, and SO MUCH FUN. I want to go do it again today! But alas, it's one of those once-in-a-lifetime kinds of deals.

My writing group went with me, since that's where most of us first met. (We've been meeting together ever since Brandon put us together three years ago.) After I spoke, we found a table and benches in the lobby, and had our weekly critique group meeting. One of our members has since moved to another state, so he Skyped in. The volume on the computer has to be loud, so even those of us on the other side of the computer can hear, and we have to talk loud so he can hear.

I didn't think anything of our volume, though, because we were FOCUSED. Just like a good little writing group should be. Anyway, toward the end, someone came up to us and said, "Excuse me? Um.... What are you guys doing?"

"Oh. writer's group. We're critiquing each other's stuff."

He looked SO RELIEVED. "Oh! That makes so much sense! I was wondering why you guys were talking about whether you have enough motivation to assassinate people!"

It has already been etched in my brain under FAVORITE WRITING GROUP MEMORIES EVER. Good times. Good times.

And onto the quote!

"The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say,
but what we are unable to say."

~Anaïs Nin

Sometimes I'll write a scene that has a ton of emotion in it. I cry writing it. I think it might possibly have evoked more emotion than anything else I've ever written.

Then I walk away. Sometime later, after it's been long enough to forget everything I went through right along with the character, I read it again, and I don't get taken back to that same place! That place where I went with my character that made me swell with emotion. And I realize that I didn't capture those feelings. The things that most people are unable to say. The things that, as writers, we need to know how to say. Even if it's REALLY HARD.

And that's the trick, isn't it? To truly express the things even our characters were unable to say. No matter how many passes it takes for us to get it right.

Because it's still February and because I love Valentines cookies especially, more heart cookies! Go ahead and take one. They turn your tongue fun colors.

Photo credit:

Have a fabulous weekend, everyone!

Quotes and Cookies: Unable to Say

There was a problem with this post, (I heart you, Blogger! Really. Even when you do crazy things.) so I had to repost it above, exactly the same. (If you had a way to move these comments to that post, I'd love you even more, Blogger. Just sayin.')

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Package, An Offer, An Embarrassment

Three things today.

While at that writing conference last weekend, I got a package in the mail! It was my edits from my editor. She printed out my entire ms and wrote notes all over it in her cute handwriting. So cool! And it came with a nine page editorial letter. And lemme tell you. My editor is a freaking genius! I'm not kidding. I won't lie to you, though. Getting a list of suggestions from a genius is a little intimidating / overwhelming. I've been told it goes away after a few days.... I'll have to let you know on that one. ;)

I may have mentioned before that I took a college writing class from Brandon Sanderson. Brandon is incredible, and is hands-down the author I have learned more from than any other author. Or possibly from all other authors combined. Not only is he brilliant, but he knows how to teach what he does in a way that makes so much sense. He's every bit as brilliant a teacher as he is an author. Anyway, he invited me to come talk to his class tonight about my publication story! I get to go into the same room I learned so much in, and stand at the front and speak to writers who are experiencing the magic I experienced in his class. I'm a little [read: a lot] giddy.

I love conferences. It's quite possible that after having so much fun for days, by the last day the fun spills over. And it's quite possible that the fun might cause me to embarrass myself.

I had to leave early on the last day of LTUE. As I told my conference buddy Erin Summerill goodbye, we realized we hardly took out our cameras the whole conference! So she came up with the idea to photo bomb famous authors [sneak up and pretend you're in a picture with them when you're really not]. "Great!" I said. (Fun spilling over, and all.) So, we ran around to find as many famous authors as we could.

First, we ran into Bree Despain [The Dark Divine], who is amazing and lovely. We told her our plan, and she played along. (Note to self: if you tell them your plan first, you embarrass yourself less.)

Then we ran out in the hall, in a hurry because next panel was starting soon, and we had to make sure we found people. Aha! Brandon Sanderson was standing in the hall, speaking with someone. Click!

Yes, it's blurry. That's what happens when you are laughing so hard when you click the button.

Then Erin spotted L.E. Modesitt Jr. at a signing table, chatting with a girl.

A little about L.E. Modesitt Jr. He's the author of over 50 books, twelve of which are in my hubby's all time favorite series. I love his books, too, and I was so excited to meet him three years ago. He is a classy guy. He always wears a three piece suit, looks impeccable, and I'm not sure, but in my mind, he's been knighted and you should bow down to him. Three years ago, it took FOREVER before I got up the guts to talk to him. He's an incredibly nice guy, though--- I really had nothing to worry about. It's just that he's so regal! And even if he looks like "Sir" should precede his name on his covers, I still managed to burst out "You are so cool!" three years ago when he gave me a gift to give my hubby.

That was nothing compared with this year. I snuck behind him for an unplanned-with-the-author photo bomb.

He noticed Erin taking the picture, though! He stood up in his chair, quick as can be, and offered to take a real picture with me. The girl he was chatting with scooted out of the picture, and Erin snapped a new one, with me laughing so hard I could barely breathe.

And after the picture, I realized I had been RUBBING HIS BACK THE WHOLE TIME. It's just that his jacket was so soft. And then I realized the picture was over and I was STILL rubbing his back. In an effort to explain myself, I said, "Wow. Your jacket is SO SOFT!"

A little cough, and a quick sit-down. "It's cashmere."

I looked at my hand and thought, Oh, my gosh, Peggy! Are you seriously still rubbing his back?! Even after he sat down?! Move your hand! Move your hand!

"Do people rub your back all the time at signings when you're wearing this jacket?"  

Nice one, Peggy. And seriously? STILL with the rubbing?

He cleared his throat and just looked down at his pen on the table. "Um, no."

REMOVE YOUR HAND! And possibly think about running away!

That time I actually did listen to the voice, and somehow managed to stop rubbing his back. Note to self: When the fun spills over, look for taking pictures like these instead. You embarrass yourself less.

A bunch of us at lunch on Friday, including Rob Code, Julie Daines, Elana Johnson, Nichole Giles, Rachelle Christensen, Jaime Theler, Erin Summerill, me, and Leigh Covington.

Erin, Melanie Fowler, Chantele Sedgwick, Ruth Josse, Katie Dodge, Shallee McArthur, and me.

Me, J.A. Bennett, and Shelly Brown

Chantele Sedgwick, Ruth Josse, and Katie Dodge

Taffy Lovell, Erin Summerill, Melanie Fowler

Me and Erin
Moral of the story: Go to conferences. They're fun.
Alternate moral of the story: Watch out for writers en masse. They become crazy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Way We Are: Afraid to show

Everyone has someone they are afraid to show their manuscript to. (Right? Or are there fearless people out there? If you're one, make yourself known!)

It might be an agent (or agents in general), your high school English teacher, your best friend, you spouse, your critique group (or a specific CP), your parents, readers you don't know. Even if you usually have no problem with people reading your work, there's usually someone you dread showing. If you hate showing your work to EVERYONE, there's still someone that's harder, right?

Who is the person you've been most afraid to show your ms to?

For me, it was my hubby. It seems strange now, especially since he reads each chapter before even my writing group reads it. But I wrote for a while--- a couple of years and several books--- before I let him read anything. Why? I was nervous to let him read because he believed in me. YEARS before I even got the first inkling to write a book, he believed I could. From day one, he supported my decision to be a writer. He made sure I had writing time. He'd take off work to be with the kiddos while I went to conferences and classes. He encouraged me to write. I guess I was so nervous to show him, because I was afraid I'd show him that his support and belief in me was misplaced.

Lame, I know. And now I'm really glad I got over it, because I love showing him what I write, and I love his feedback.

So how about you? Who was/is your hardest person to show your writing to? Have you shown them yet?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I made you something special

Because it's Valentine's Day, and because I love Valentines Day and I love you guys, I made you something! Something for the writer-you on this special day. But you've got to go to Sara's blog to get it. So click here: A Crowe's Nest

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Origin

Thank you Chris Allinotte at The Leaky Pencil for the Versatile Blogger Award!

Six months ago, I participated in the Spark Blogfest, and wrote about what gave me the spark to write. I had a blast! A big part of that was because it was SO MUCH FUN to read everyone's Spark stories. (So I'm really hoping that a lot of you are posting your story today!)

The Origins blogfest is very similar, which makes me so excited! I can't wait to read everyone's Origin story. Last time, I wrote about what gave me the spark to write. This is what gave me the spark to BECOME A WRITER.

I did NOT grow up wanting to be a writer. (In fact, I had a high school Honors English teacher who was awful and horrible and mean-spirited, and after her class, I never wanted to write even a single email in my voice ever again, let alone anything else. It was only about five years ago that I recovered from the damage that one teacher caused.)

Of course I did recover, and then came the Spark story. And then, my Origins story.

I love the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I've said it before, Joss Whedon is a genius. GENIUS! Anyway, a couple friends of mine discovered, watched, loved, then worshiped the show Firefly, so I dangled Buffy and Angel in front of them. It only took the words "Joss was a genius even before Firefly," and they were sold. After sticking with both series for a total of 244 episodes, I figured they deserved to have a book written with them in it! I put them both as the main characters in that world and *ahem* I gotta say it was pretty magical.

I've always created things with my hands. Physical objects that I could hold and say, "Look what I made!" I lived off the high I got from it.

But I discovered that the creative high I got from writing exceeded everything I had ever experienced with any other creative endeavor. I was hopelessly hooked.

But wait! That's not actually what made me want to become a writer. (I'm sure that, eventually, it would have. I mean come on! It's writing!) I read MG to my kids every night, and have done so for 6 or 7 or 8 years, and I love it. After I finished the book I wrote for my friends, I read it to my kids. Because that's what I do.


I seriously had no idea there could be something so great in the world as reading a book to my kids that I wrote. I had no idea that the thrill of reading it to them could outshine the thrill I got writing it. From that moment, I wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of my life writing books that I could read to my kids. And that someday they could read to their kids. As I hugged them goodnight, I made a choice to embark on a journey I knew would be painfully hard and that would take me years and years.... and there was no part of me that wasn't okay with it. I've been living off that high ever since.

I love my kiddos. Not only were they the impetus in my Origins story, but they continually offer me an insane amount of support and encouragement.

How about you? What's your ORIGINS story? If you posted one on your blog, let me know! I want to make sure I read it.

(And if you didn't sign up for the Origins Blogfest, go check it out. It's probably not too late!)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Quotes and Cookies: Revising

Guys, my revision letter is IN THE MAIL. My manuscript will come with handwritten notes on it. Eeeeee! It's possible that gearing up for revisions is a little bit on my mind. So on with revision quotes!

"A kiss that speaks volumes is seldom a first edition."

~Clare Whiting

"I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil."

~Truman Capote

"You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke."

~Arthur Polotnik

And one that echoes my sentiments:

"Revision is one of the exquisite pleasures of writing."

~Bernard Malamud

Aren't revisions the best? They're what turns good into great. Okay into incredible. Fine into fabulous. Ahh. I LOOOOVE revising. Do you loooove it, too? Or are you in one of those relationships with it where you both just kind of annoy each other for a really long time before you find out that you've really loved each other all along? (Or is it one of those relationships where you're willing to bet your keyboard that love could never possibly be a word you'd use to describe your relationship with revising?)

Since we're in the month of love, and because Valentines Day is just around the corner, and because that day holds a special place in my heart,* have a Valentine cookie!

(*It is, after all, the anniversary of the day I was born. Now don't go thinking you should wish me a happy birthday when it rolls around! Valentine's Day is not my birthday. Just the anniversary of my birth.)

Photo Credit: Cookie Crazie
Have a fabulous weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Way We Are: Character Pics?

Okay, so I know that some of us use playlists for our manuscripts, some of us don't. Some of us know our characters' names immediately, some of us agonize over it for months. As far as outside-your-head inspiration goes, I have one more question.

Do you search for a picture of someone who looks like your character(s)?

Is it one of those things you have to have to start writing? Or do you go out and search when you hit a sagging part in your manuscript, to re-energize you and help you find the focus you're looking for? Or does it matter to you at all?

If you don't look for pictures, why not?

If you do, where do you usually go to find your images? And do you tend to find random people, or do you look for actors that you would love to see cast in the movie of your book?

My answer: I don't. Part of the reason is that I don't think I would ever find someone who not only had the same look, but who had the same look of / lack of confidence. The same amount of sweetness / gruffness. The same amount of innocence / guilt. You know-- all the little things that go beyond a person's features, but that also show who they are.

The other part of the reason is, beyond googling "faces" or searching through a billion photographers' sites, I never know where to look. (So if you've got suggestions, I'm dying to hear them!)

What about you?

Monday, February 6, 2012

How do you know when your manuscript is ready?

Soon after I got my book deal, several people asked me to do a post on how to know when your manuscript is ready. How to know when you are DONE! When you've crossed the finish line!

I’ve put this post off because.... well it’s HARD. And totally subjective. And one person's take. This isn't researched in the sense of me spending a month combing through everything on the subject and giving you a comprehensive report. (Wow. I gave myself a headache just typing that!) However, it is researched in the sense that I spent the last four years gleaning everything I could, and found what works best for me.

Will it work for you? Idk. Probably parts will and parts won't. Most of it you probably already do. Either way, here you go. Peggy's Guide to Editing and Revising. :)

I am DONE. Why oh why should I keep going through it and through it?

There are lots of reasons why you should work hard to make your MS shine! Reasons I may be just a little passionate about.
  • Because nobody is brilliant enough to get all the depth needed into a manuscript in one pass. (I know you're brilliant. Incredibly brilliant! Even so, it still can't all happen in one pass.) There are so many things you need to focus on in a book. Making sure the characters are fully formed. That the setting feels real. That the plot has the high points and low points in the right places. That the conflict is engaging. That pacing is good. Using varied sentence structure. Not using passive voice. Making sure the voice itself is compelling. Along with about a million more things. Don't panic! There's no way anyone can keep all those things in focus while drafting. And herein lies the beauty of revisions. They let you get to all of those things, dealing with as many or as few at a time as you'd like.
  • Your [current or future] agent has strengths. Editing might not be one of them. They may be good at negotiating contracts. They may be good at foreign rights. They may be good at brainstorming with you. They may be good at keeping you updated. They may be organized. They may be a good editor. THEY WILL NOT BE ALL OF THESE THINGS. They shouldn't be expected to be all these things, so don't expect your agent to be able to tell you everything that should be fixed for your book to sell well. That might not be their strength. And that's totally okay, because you'll be head-over-heels in love with whatever their strengths are!
  • All the work it takes to get your ms ready? That work has to happen sometime. If you put it off until an editor or agent asks you to do it, it still has to be done. By you. No one does any of it for you. And if you wait, it has to happen on a schedule. Do it now, and it happens on your schedule. :)
  • If you get impatient with revisions and query too soon, an agent / editor might pass, when maybe they would have said yes if it was in better shape. And that chance with that agent / editor is gone. Sad, sad day.
Things to do when revising
(Revising to me means changing content.)
  • Think about every single piece of advice that you hear in the context of the book you're working on. You read a lot of blogs, right? Maybe even read a lot of books on craft? Go to conferences? Think how you can use what they suggest to make your book stronger. Then add in those layers into your manuscript. Add that depth to that one character. Spend some time thinking about how changing your book based on those suggestions will help it. Do this enough times, and your setting/characters/plot will feel like they're a real place / real people / could really happen. The more layers you get, the more people will be invested in this world you created.
  • When you read through your ms, if you ever think, “I don’t know how they’re going to take this part,” change it. That's the little warning light in your brain, blinking, letting you know that there's a problem with that section. Keep going through your ms until you don't have any more parts you wonder about.
  • Read it through and see if it reads like a published book. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that it's supposed to be rough until an agent and an editor works their magic on it. Think about the last "just okay" book you read. There were things that you didn't love, or that weren't done well, right? Each time you ran into them, you pushed them into a little container in the side of your brain and kept going because of the parts you liked, right? But if there were too many things that bugged you, your little container got full, and suddenly you cared a whole lot less about finishing the book. Agents / editors are the same way. Try your best not to give them things that are going to go into their container.
Things to look for when editing
(Editing to me means grammar stuff.)(These are some things that are my biggest pet peeves, or things that I think can make writing SO MUCH STRONGER.)
  • Don't use was ___ing (or were ___ing. Or am ___ing) unless you have to. As in, don't use something like "We were running down the street." (Or "I was running down the street," or "I am running down the street.") Just use "We ran down the street." (I ran... I run...) Why? Because was ___ing is less concrete. Notice how "We were running down the street" feels more like you're watching from a distance and they're kind of floating down the street. With "We ran down the street," you can feel the pound of each foot on the pavement. Contrary to popular belief, it does NOT make it feel more "in the moment." I just doesn't. Is there ever a time you should use it? Yes. When something is actually in the middle of happening. For example: "When we walked outside, the sun was shining." You can't really change it to say "When we walked outside, the sun shone," because then it sounds like it JUST started happening when they walked outside. Basically, if you change it, and it changes when something happened, leave it. Otherwise, get it out. :)
  • Inanimate objects can DO things. This is a HUGE one! Using "was" or "is" isn't all that desirable, is it? As a reader, it makes it feel like you're being told everything, instead of seeing it. So, instead of saying "The building was at the end of the road..." Use "The building sat at the end of the road..." Instead of "The clock was in the middle of the wall..." use "The clock hung in the middle of the wall..." Easy peasy. Yet makes a huge difference.
  • Walking to the door, she opened it. Okay, um... You can't open the door at the same time that you're walking to it. Be careful with these! It's a rare case when it's a good idea to start a sentence with a word that ends with "ing."
  • Almost never use filters. I think (or he/she thought), I knew (or he/she knew), I saw (or he/she saw). Or smelled. Or felt. Or any other filter words. Use these, and the reader stops feeling like everything is happening to them, and starts feeling like they are watching the things happen to your character. It’s no longer personal to the reader. Why? Instead of imagining how something feels, the reader has to imagine how it feels to that character, then think about how they feel about the character feeling that way. There's a filter there. THINGS GET TRAPPED IN FILTERS. That's kind of their job. Don't use filters! There are very few cases when you need to point out that the character hears/sees/thinks/feels/knows/smells something. Most of the time, that's understood. If you come across any of these, take it out and see if it still makes sense. Chances are, it will.
  • Use economy of phrasing. It's amazing how complicated we make sentences the first time around. Take a look at each and every sentence and see if there is a simpler, more concise way to say it. Your job is to never confuse the reader. (Withhold things from them, sure. Use red herrings, absolutely. But never confuse. Especially in the wording of a sentence.)
  • Look for pet words you overuse. For me, it's "just" and "that." And I am TOTALLY FINE with them going in the first draft. Everything flows better when I do. But when it comes time to edit, it's time to take them out! Actions can be overused, too. Glancing, shrugging, eye rolling... Just keep an eye out of anything you overuse. 
  • Change your font. Sounds weird, I know. But somewhere toward the end of revising, change the font. If you've been using Times New Roman, change it to something like Arial, or vice versa. You'll be amazed at the things you'll catch when you aren't staring at the same font that you've stared at for the past gazillion revisions! Then when you're done, you can go ahead and change it back. :)
What if I’ve been changing it for forever? I could always revise more and make it better.
  • This one's hard! I say if you get down to the point where you are fiddling with wording over and over, and you're only making minor tweaks, it's probably time to call it DONE.
Are you sure? Are you sure I'm ready?

Two things. 
  • Don’t confuse hope and desire with being ready.
  • But don’t confuse fear of rejection with not being ready.
Your gut will tell you when you are there! Listen to it. Then summon all the bravery and confidence you can muster and move forward with it in whatever direction your headed.

What's been the hardest thing for you when you're editing / revising? And do you have any more suggestions to add? We really want to hear them!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Quotes and Cookies: Departing Outlines

"For all my longer works, for example novels, I write chapter outlines so I can have the pleasure of departing from them later on."

~Garth Nix

This quote KILLS ME! I'm not even sure why I love it so much. Maybe because it gives us permission to be a plotter. Permission to be a pantser. But more importantly, permission to waver between the two as much as we want. Who says we have to label ourselves one or the other? (In fact, who says we even need "permission" for any of it?) I'm willing to bet that most people aren't at one end of the plotter-pantser continuum or the other; we are somewhere in the middle. We plot parts, we pants parts. And whatever way works for us is the way we should do it.

And because I love fortune cookies something fierce, and because they seem to fit with a fun quote, let's share a few! Oh, and fun side note: Shortly after he got his first book deal, Brandon Mull (of FABLEHAVEN fame) got a fortune cookie that read, "You will become a New York Times Bestselling Author." I keep thinking that if I eat enough fortune cookies, I will get that one someday, too. :o)

So have one with me! May your fortune be the best one EVER.

Have a fabulous weekend, everyone!

P.S. I'm opening mine RIGHT NOW. Hmmm... "Unveil your ideas. Be ready to act on them." No NYT Bestselling Author, but still a good one to get in the middle of drafting.

If you get a good one, be sure to tell us about it!