Editing…send cake!

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As I mentioned in my last blog post, redefining my goals was a must as of late. I should have been hard at work on novel number two right now, while my second round of queries floated in the ether. But, due to some excellent revision suggestions, I’ll be focusing my time on edits for The Devil Inside Me.

If you’re in the same boat, I’ve rounded up a few articles, old and new, that provide advice on numerous levels of editing, including finding and using a developmental editor–something I’m currently deciding on. I hope that these provide you some help and direction as they have me. Let me know how your writing process is going!


A couple of primers on editing on your own from NowNovel and Autocrit are a nice supplement to EpicFantasyWriter’s awesome article on doing a developmental edit yourself!

Tips on finding a developmental editor from Jane Friedman and The Blurb.

And finally, a good reminder for us all from The Editors Blog–it takes time!

How to Set Goals–and Achieve Them


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Today is my one year blog-iversary! I feel like trumpets should be sounding, confetti should be flying, and someone should be pouring the champagne. Why?  Because I hit my writing goals last year. Every last one of them, including starting and maintaining this blog.

How? Great question since I procrastinate. I fear failure. I loathe imperfection. I spent a few months prepping my website (hellooooo learning curve) and preparing a few blog posts in order to go live January 1, 2018. On that date on my planner, I wrote,”Do not be afraid!” I knew I would chicken out if I didn’t have that reminder. Taking my writing public and opening myself for critique and criticism was a huge challenge and risk for me. But here I am–still alive.

If this sounds like you, trust me when I say if I could do it, you can too. Here is the short version of the steps I took. If you’d like a free goal-setting worksheet, click here!

Give yourself some quiet time and space to think.

Maybe the local coffee shop has enough background noise for you to concentrate. Maybe you send the kids to grandma’s for a few hours so you have silence in your own home. Whatever your brand of thinking space, make room for it. You need to genuinely consider your dreams here, and that won’t come easily if you’re trying to multitask. I set aside an hour but found I needed only about 20 minutes to be honest with myself.

What are your wants and dreams?

Don’t be bashful–be honest. If you could have/do/be anything, what would it be? Write it all down. Silence that inner critic that tells you it’s impossible or stupid or too far out of reach. Then, take each dream and ask yourself how you could make it happen. What are the baby steps you’d have to take to start down that path? Write it all down and create a timeline for yourself.

Then, be honest with yourself. One of my dreams is to get a literary agent. I have zero control over that in some ways, but I can write and edit and edit some more. I can polish my work and give it to beta readers and re-work it some more. I can research the industry and find out how to write a kick-butt query letter. I can do more research and find out which agents would be the best match for me and for my writing.

One of my dreams is also to win the lottery, but there’s not much I can do short of buying tickets. Which I never do. Assess your dreams and look for the kind of difference between my two examples here.

Put your list of dreams and goals where you’ll see them.

I printed mine out and put it in my planner. I also had a copy on my phone. I didn’t want it displayed on a wall at home or on my desk at work. This was a private challenge for me.

Some people will tell you to share your goals with someone else to better hold yourself accountable. This is a great idea, but I would like to add something: Only share them with someone who is in your corner, who supports you no matter what, and who knows the inner workings of your brain. I told my husband that I was really going to go for writing a book, but that was it. My intrinsic fear of failure coupled with perfectionism means I often freeze up and procrastinate. The thought alone of sharing my goals with the world started a deep freeze. As I began ticking off my goals, I shared them with more and more trusted people. At the end of December, I shared my completed novel with three co-workers who are reading it over our Christmas break. If that had been a goal of mine a year ago, I guarantee you I would have frozen at the thought. So be judicious. It’s ok to keep them private as long as you are honest with yourself.

Check in with your goals. Update your progress. Adjust as needed.

Again, be honest with yourself. Don’t self-sabotage. Don’t make excuses. Decide that you’re going to do it. If something takes you longer than you anticipated, that’s ok. Adjust your timeline. It took me longer to write my first draft because I edited a lot as I went (and I researched probably more than I needed to). BUT, that made my life easier during the editing rounds.

Ready to write down those dreams and goals? Click here for your free goal-setting worksheet!

 

Joining a Writing Group


groupLast month in my Top Five Things This Writer Is Thankful For post, I mentioned two writers’ groups: the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. When I first began thinking seriously about this writing thing, I did some research. Ok, I did a LOT of research.

Much of the advice centered around finding others like you in various stages of the process: beginners with only a story running through their heads; people who had novels written but not yet published; those from both sides of the traditional publishing/self-publishing aisle–both brand new and seasoned professionals.

Great, I thought. I live in the middle of nowhere. How was I going to find these people? Twitter has a beyond-fabulous writing community that stretches all dimensions of personality and experience, but I wanted to find people I could connect with in real life too. I learned about the genre-specific groups, most of which have a national–even international–presence. However, that presence does not reach its tendrils to the middle of nowhere. The closest I was going to get was Chicago. Enter Mystery Writers of America-Midwest (MWA) and Sisters i(and Misters!) n Crime-Chicagoland (SinC). I signed up, considering the membership charges an investment in my goals.

A year ago, I was hesitant to attend any of their events. I didn’t even have a completed manuscript. I didn’t know Imposter’s Syndrome was a thing, but I was certainly in the throes of it. (An excellent guest post by Kassandra Lamb on Jami Gold’s blog can help you self-diagnose. *smile*) I finally attended the Chicago Writing Workshop. Several people–including a published author and a small press publisher–encouraged me to join MWA and SinC, explaining that they were helpful for people at any stage of the game.

They were so right.

I’ve since attended four events (two events for each group). All were free, I might add, provided you’re a member, but I can’t even put a price on the value. I’ve found a group of people who are at the same stage, and we stay connected via email. I’ve found two beta readers. I’ve learned about others’ struggles and successes, small presses, the worth of an agent, and the changing landscape of publishing. I’ve networked with published authors and publishers themselves. And I’ve found an incredibly supportive group of people–no matter their “station” in the writing world–who are encouraging and willing to help others along their journeys.

If you are suffering from Imposter’s Syndrome and are doubting your worth, your credibility, your ability, I hope that you seek out some writing groups, whether it’s a general group or genre-specific, whether it’s home-grown that meets at your local library or internationally-known. Don’t be afraid to step out of that comfort zone so many of us writers dwell in! You will likely be pleasantly surprised.

How Do You Query an Agent?

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I finished my edits for The Devil Inside Me over the summer. There were some drastic changes–including changing my protagonist–that I did based on feedback from a published author, an agent, and a small press publisher. At first, I started out with just changing up a few chapters to see how it felt. What can I say? I think the pros know what they’re talking about. I loved it, and as I went through the rewrites, I loved it even more.

At a writing conference I attended over the summer, I was able to personally pitch my book to an agent and a publisher. Both asked to see my first three chapters. After reading those, the agent declined, but the publisher asked for a full manuscript.

I about fell out of my chair.

It’s what I wanted, of course, but I was surprised that someone else thought it would have merit. Validation is oh-so-important to writers.

I’ve since sent out eleven queries to agents, carefully picking and choosing from Publishers Marketplace and Manuscript Wish List and QueryTracker, cross-referencing with websites to ensure the agents were indeed still looking for my genre and still open to queries.

I’ve heard back from four: three rejections and one send-me-the-full.

Again, I about fell out of my chair.

Now, I know technically this means nothing. Saying they want to read the whole novel does not an offer make. But again, the validation thing.

So where do you even begin with querying? Here’s what I did.

Step 1: Research

First, Google “how to write a query letter.” Seriously. You should know before you begin what this ball game is all about if your end goal is traditional publishing. Start with Writer’s Digest’s deceptively simple “The 10 Dos and Don’ts of Writing a Query Letter.” They also have an excellent series of posts with actual query letters that garnered representation AND commentary from the agents who loved them. This article from The Write Life is excellent as well. I think the single post that helped me the most was Jane Friedman’s post on writing a query.

Second, if you haven’t already, stalk follow people who know what they’re talking about, like Jane Friedman, QueryShark Janet Reid, and agents who represent your genre. Read the agent’s webpage and study their agency’s website–some will have specific instructions on what they seek in a query letter.

Step 2: Finish your manuscript

Unless you are writing non-fiction, you should have a finished manuscript, edited and polished, ready to send to an agent or small press publisher the minute they ask for it.

Step 3: Write the query letter

It’s painful, but again, do your research. Revisit step 1.

Step 4: Curate agents

This took more time than I anticipated it would, but I wanted to get it right. There is no point in querying someone who doesn’t accept science fiction if that’s what you’ve written. As I mentioned above, I cross-referenced Publishers Marketplace, Manuscript Wish ListQueryTracker, and agent websites for those open to queries in my genre.

I created a spreadsheet with all of their information bits–agency, email address, likes, dislikes, extra details on personal interests, their response-time estimates, etc. You can use QueryTracker’s tracking feature, but I wanted the ability to add more detail. I tried using those extra details to prioritize which agents would be the best fit for my manuscript.

Step 5: Personalize your query letters

One piece of advice I saw repeatedly, from general writing websites to agent webpages: please personalize the queries. Your paragraphs about your novel can remain the same, maybe even the paragraph about you, but be specific to whom you’re addressing. Don’t write “Dear agent” when you can write “Dear Ms. Jones.” If something on their MSWL made you think they’d be perfect for your manuscript, say so. If you met, even in passing, at a writing workshop or conference, say so.

Also–every agent and agency is different. In my research, I found some who wanted a query letter only, some who wanted a query letter plus my first three pages, some who wanted a query letter, a synopsis, and the first ten pages, and some who wanted a query letter and the first three chapters. Tailor each submission to those directions. Nothing will get your query tossed faster than not following directions.

Step 6: Triple-check everything

Do you have the right query letter for the right agent? Sending it to the right email address? Have you followed their directions to the letter?

Step 7: Click send

You’ve come this far. Do not be afraid. The worst you will hear is no, but every other published author in the world has heard no more than they’ve heard yes. Click send.

And now, a lesson my mother has been trying to teach me since age four: patience. The average response time for queries is 4-12 weeks, and 8-12 weeks for fulls. In the meantime, I’m working on novel two, getting back to short stories, and reading.

 

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Top Five Things This Writer Is Thankful For

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‘Tis the season for giving thanks, and here are my top five things (in no particular order) that I’m thankful for this November–related to writing, of course!

Bloggers and twitter followers

Without the continued chatter among bloggers and tweeters, where would we writers be? Writing can be so isolating, and for those of us who live out in the middle of nowhere, that isolation is amplified. I love connecting with others this way when in-person meetings aren’t possible.

Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America

I spent last weekend in Chicago to attend functions put on by Sisters in Crime (the Chicagoland chapter) and Mystery Writers of America (the Midwest chapter). It was my first experience in-person with both groups, and the camaraderie was something to behold. Members are at various stages in the writing journey, from just starting out to published authors many times over. The best part? The genuine friendliness and willingness to help each other out. I walked away from both events feeling encouraged and revived.

NaNoWriMo regional group

I’ve long complained about the lack of formal writing groups in my area–I’m three hours from Chicago–but I joined up with our regional NaNoWriMo group, and wow. Just wow. They are some really cool people whose goals are as varied as are our genres. Writing is such a solitary endeavor, and it’s so nice to be in the company of like-minded people who help me remember to keep writing!

NaNoWriMo student group

This year, I started an after-school NaNoWriMo group for students at the high school where I teach. We had a Harry Potter-themed kick-off party and regular write-ins, and though it’s caused me to miss a lot of my “grown-up” regional write-ins, it’s a good trade-off. Seeing my students confer with one another about what the next best plot point is and sharing their work with their peers (and even me!) makes me smile. My favorite moment thus far was when it was pitch black save for the battery-operated candles hanging from the ceiling a la Hogwarts, and all you could hear was the clicking of keys. Every single one of us was engrossed in our own writing, yet we were doing it all together. Magical.

Early readers

Our school’s librarian was an English teacher in the early days of her career. She has become a good friend to me, personally and professionally. When I gathered the courage to tell her I was thinking of writing, she showered me with encouragement. She was an early reader for everything I wrote, and when The Devil Inside Me became more than a notion, she beta-read, discovering plot points and typos, offering suggestions and honest criticism. Without her enthusiasm, I doubt I would have ever finished the novel, let alone submitted it to agents and publishers.

What are you thankful for?

 

How to “Win” NaNoWriMo

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Last month, I explained National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and now it’s here! As I write this, I have written 11,000 words into my second novel, The Devil Before Me since November 1.

Crazy?

Yes.

And that’s why I do it.

I’m a procrastinator extraordinaire, and I often feel like I have to get everything done on my to-do list before I can sit down to write. (Otherwise, my mind will be distracted by the other things I have to do.) Now, I am not a competitive person by nature. I didn’t like team sports when I was a kid: I preferred ballet and piano lessons. But when it comes to writing and brain sports, well, that’s a different story.

The drive to “win” NaNoWriMo–writing 50,000 words in November–is strong for me. That’s my idea of competition. However, the last time I attempted it, I petered out about six days in. I just could not find a way to write that many words every. single. day.

I learned a few lessons that I applied to this attempt, and so far so good. Here they are:

1. For this month, prioritize your writing.

  • The laundry goes for a couple extra days.
  • The hubby is put on dishwashing duty.
  • I make crock pot meals.
  • I say “no” a lot when it comes to after-work things.

 

2. For the love of all that is holy in writing-land, have an outline.

  • But I’m a pantser, you say? No problem.
  • It doesn’t have to be a formal, rigid, locked-in outline your high school English teacher made you write.
  • Let it be fluid so that as your ideas come to you, you can follow them instead of an in-stone outline.
  • Just have your basic plot points. From there, jot down some of the scenes you’ll need. This has been my biggest help: knowing where I’m going next without having to think about it.

 

3. Join your regional NaNoWriMo group.

  • Mine has physical meet-ups to write as well as virtual ones.
  • Being with other people chasing the same dreams is AMAZING for your motivation and inspiration.
  • Seeing others struggle with the same writerly things you are helps you to know you are not alone.

 

4. It’s not going to perfect.

  • It’s a rough draft. Get your story out first. Then polish.
  • Resist the urge to edit too much. (I’m an English teacher. Trust me, I know how difficult that can be!) Your goal here is to get the story, your ideas, out of your head and into some semblance of a form.

 

5. Don’t be afraid to fail.

  • Life happens. Sick kids happen. Job changes happen. Just do what you can do. If you don’t write 50,000 words, you’ll at least have more words than if you didn’t try at all.
  • Failing can be the best teacher. My challenges with my last attempt drove me to do better this time by learning from my shortcomings. You can too!

NaNoWriMo approaches…

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It’s October, and you know what that means! Pumpkin spice everything–and NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month.

Never heard of it? Read Kristen Kieffer’s excellent distillation on her blog, well-storied. In a nutshell, it’s a bazillion people trying to write 50,000 words in one month. That’s 1,667 words a day. A DAY. Crazy? Perhaps. But NaNoWriMo has forums and pep talks and regional groups that all help create a beautiful (and maybe a little crazy) writing community to help you along.

I wrote a bit about my last NaNoWriMo experience here, and I’m so looking forward to beginning again in a few weeks–especially because I’m starting a group for my students. Creative writing is not something that Common Core values, so I squeeze that in wherever and whenever I can! I will be writing feverishly alongside them as well.

Many NaNo writers spend their Octobers preparing (i.e. Preptober) for the challenge. Given my experience, I would strongly encourage you to do the same–and Rachael Stephen, author of State of Flux and creator of the plot embryo, has a ton of practical resources for free on her website. (She is also a bullet journaler–check out her video of her NaNoWriMo one. Talk about a work of art!) She also offers a free (FREE) seven-day course on plotting–all on one page. For those of us who tend to eschew outlines and too much preparation, it is a perfect solution to meet in the middle.

Are you up for the challenge? Let me know if you are! I’d love to keep in touch with other NaNo-ers!

Sign up HERE to get my blog posts delivered to your mailbox. You can always read them here, but email subscribers will receive extras along the way! Sign up today and receive a snippet of my current project: The Devil Inside Me.