Bootcamp for Writers!

A few people inquired about the bootcamp I mentioned in a previous post, so here are a few details!

Once I decided to treat this writing endeavor seriously, I knew I would have to push myself outside of my comfort zone. Way outside of my comfort zone. I would have to do the unthinkable: share my writing. Gasp! The horror! I would have to seek advice from professionals. I would have to give myself permission to try, to fail, to succeed.

When I was first brave enough to share my writing, I chose with intention: our librarian, who is a former English teacher. My first comment was “be gentle.” Then I turned around and said, “Scratch that. Be brutal.” She was both–and I’m grateful.

Back when the idea for The Devil Inside Me arrived in my head, I genuinely thought I had a good premise that people would enjoy to read and publishers would see as potentially profitable–but, I wanted some type of acknowledgement of that. One day while perusing the blogs on Writer’s Digest, I stumbled across this gem: Agent One-on-One Bootcamp–Your First Ten Pages. Yes, it cost money. No, Writer’s Digest is not paying me for this commentary. Yes, it was worth every penny. (Please note they do not have an active version of this bootcamp at the moment, but I included a link for the description.)

Here’s how it was shaped: You watch a couple of webinars. You edit your first ten pages of your manuscript according to those general-but-detailed how-to-write-a-novel videos. You submit those ten pages to a participating agent. The agent provides you with detailed revision notes. You revise and resubmit. The agent provides you with a last commentary on your revisions.

Why is this valuable? First, I was able to get the confirmation that, yes, I had a sale-able concept. Yes, I have some writing skill–and perhaps more importantly, I was able to revise according to the agent’s suggestions. No one was knocking down my door asking me to send them more, but it did give me the confidence I needed to make sure that I wasn’t on some crazy train to deluded-land.

Furthermore, the agents available were reputable and well-known. Writer’s Digest made it clear who they were in advance, so I was able to research the agency and the agents themselves. I was also able to select which agent I wanted to submit to–who happens to represent (and write) in the mystery genre. 

Clicking send was simultaneously nightmarish and euphoric. Receiving her revision notes was simultaneously defeating and anti-climactic. I must have read the email fourteen times and went through something that felt like the stages of grief in a matter of hours. (Apparently I am not alone: Check out Janelle Drumwright’s Carve post on the very topic.)

You know, denial: She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I’m the next William Shakespeare. Anger: But that point-of-view is an absolute must-have! See denial. Bargaining: Well, maybe if I had… Depression: She’s right. She knows what she’s talking about. I will never be a writer. Acceptance: Hey, she had some positive comments–maybe I should just try revising according to what she wants.

I got over myself. I made the revisions (though I especially despised the point-of-view change) and murdered my darlings. And what do you know? Praise and a comment of “you have a good chance of selling this once you’ve polished” was worth my warp-speed grieving process.

What did I learn?

INVEST A LITTLE

I balked a little at spending the money. I’ve read that you need to invest in yourself and your endeavors, no matter what they are, if you want to move forward and improve. This was well worth the money to give me the boost of confidence that I wasn’t completely out of left field.

I have since invested in paid memberships for several groups that will provide me with networking and conferencing opportunities: The Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Chicago Writers Association, Indiana Writers’ Consortium, and Writers Guild of Indiana. I’ve also invested serious time in prepping this website and blog in the hopes that it will help me spread the word of my endeavors and help others who are on the same path. 

LISTEN TO THE EXPERTS

I also balked a little at the agent’s suggestions. Couldn’t she see my vision? Once I got to the stage where I believed there was no harm in trying, I did just that–and as I made those revisions, I could see what she meant. Furthermore, after the bootcamp, I read my manuscript (still a WIP) from start to finish and was able to revise more problem areas.

DO YOUR RESEARCH–ON EVERYTHING

One of the most important take-aways from this experience was to make yourself as knowledgeable as possible. The internet is a magnificent beast–use it. From creating a website to what to include on blog posts to how to utilize social media to finding an agent to novel length to how to self-publish without getting taken…it’s all out there. I had read reviews on other bootcamps where the agents weren’t known, or they weren’t responsive, or their advice was canned. I dug around until I felt confident that the agents at this particular bootcamp would be what I needed. The more information you can arm yourself with, the better. Just don’t research so much you stop writing!

Writers, what types of classes, bootcamps, or conferences have you attended? What value did they provide you?

Readers, every time we edit and revise, we are doing it with you in mind. What are the most important features of a story for you? Is it the characters? The plot? The writing style? Why?

Sign up for my mailing list HERE to receive a snippet of my current project: The Devil Inside Me. I’d love to hear your comments!

What Harriet the Spy Taught Me

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A couple of posts back, I flippantly said that if Harriet the Spy was my favorite book in fourth grade, why would I ever deviate from that genre when writing?  To my surprise, a few of you messaged and said that you, too, loved Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet, and before I knew it, I was taking a trip back to where my love of mystery and thrillers began. 

My earliest screen-viewing memories include Clue, Macgyver, The Twilight Zone, and perhaps my favorite as a kid: Murder, She Wrote. When I had to write about the merits of The Scarlet Letter in high school, I focused almost entirely on the who-REALLY-is-the-father mystery and the psychology behind choices made. A good foundation built for my future self as a Law and Order junkie.

And then I discovered Agatha Christie. Maybe it was my Harriet the Spy training (I did run around my grandma’s neighborhood one summer with a spy notebook), but my thirteen year old self had gotten pretty good at solving those Murder, She Wrote episodes. When I picked up Hallowe’en Party, I was blown away. I didn’t have Angela Lansbury’s knowing glances to help me along, you know, and it was Christie’s writing that taught me what close reading really was. I also thoroughly blame her for my initial feelings of inadequacy when contemplating penning a mystery. My feelings were such that my first true attempt at a novel was in a completely different genre. We know where that landed.

When I was doing a bit of research for this post, I found a Writer’s Digest guest column by Jennifer McMahon, author of The Night Sister and The Winter People, in which she says to “think about the books you love, the ones you really lose yourself in. If those are mysteries, don’t try to write an historical romance or a quiet literary novel…Write what you love.” I only wish I’d found this post a couple of years ago. My current work-in-progress is mystery/crime fiction with a historical twist. I agree with Ms. McMahon: if it’s in your gut, if it’s in your heart, write it. Don’t try to write what you aren’t. Or, as Harriet the Spy’s nanny, Ole Golly said, “Sometimes you have to lie. But to yourself you must always tell the truth.”

Readers and writers, what books have been instrumental in making you who you are? I know there are as many varied responses as there are personalities out there! (And if you’d like to know more about Harriet the Spy, check out School Library Journal’s commentary. If you have kiddos, it’s a wonderful book to share.

Sign up HERE today and receive a snippet of my current project that I am super excited about: The Devil Inside Me.

Murder Your Darlings

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Earlier this week, I focused on the argument of editing while writing versus writing without stopping. Part of that struggle includes editing out pieces that you love but just don’t fit.

I first stumbled across that concept in Stephen King’s book On Writing: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

That phrase has been attributed to numerous writers over the years, from Eudora Welty to William Faulkner and, of course, Stephen King, but the true credit goes to one Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, an editor and writer, who presented a series of lectures in 1913-1914 at Cambridge University about writing (which Bartleby has lovingly preserved here). He said, “To begin with, let me plead that you have been told of one or two things which Style is not; which have little or nothing to do with Style, though sometimes vulgarly mistaken for it. Style, for example, is not—can never be—extraneous Ornament.”

In other words, just because something sounds fancy does not mean it’s good writing (or good reading). He continued with this snarky gem: “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

I’d heard the concept, but I really hadn’t been forced to put it into practice until I signed up for a writing bootcamp. One of the comments from a published author and reputed agent on my writing:? “Too dense.” Dense as in too thick with those $5 words and crafted phrases. My darlings. I was immediately transported back to my sophomore year in college when my novels professor gave me my first (but not last) B on an essay. One word sat in red ink next to the offensive letter: “Wordy.” I had never received that kind of feedback, and the sting was palpable. My bootcamp mentor and novel prof were effectively saying what Mr. Quiller-Couch had: Write it how you want to write it, but then murder those darlings. Or, as legend Elmore Leonard put it, “If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.”

Don’t despair! You can always resurrect those murdered darlings. Cut and paste them all into one place so that, if you find you wished you hadn’t murdered one after all, you can bring it to life again. Mine now reside in a folder punnily named The Dead Files. That file made it so much easier to let go–because I wasn’t really letting go. Resurrection is right around the corner thanks to technology. (Doesn’t that just beg for a post about Battlestar Galactica?) 

Need some help on how to do away with those darlings? Ruthanne Reid shares lovely advice on The Write Practice.  (You should also read her post about Neil Gaiman’s rules of writing.)

Writers, is this your process too, or do you do something altogether different with those darlings when you cut swaths of your work? Comment and let me know!

Readers, have you ever wondered if a piece was cut from your favorite novel? Would you want to read those cut pieces? I’m toying with the idea of releasing some of mine here on the blog. Please comment if that’s something you’d like to see!

To get a free sneak-preview of my work-in-progress, The Devil Inside Me, please sign up for my mailing list here. Email subscribers will receive extras along the way! 

Should I Edit While Writing?

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typewriter with paper flying out of it

First, can I give a shout out to my first followers? Thank you so much for taking the time to read my thoughts and for your kind words. I’d love to hear your comments here on the blog! If you’d like to read snippets of my work-in-progress, The Devil Inside Me, please sign up for my mailing list here. It’s not the same as subscribing to the blog itself–and you’ll get extra freebies along the way in addition to pieces of my novel!

On my last post, I spoke of giving ourselves permission to write–to try, to fail, to shelve that 60,000 words of a novel you faltered on. I also discussed giving ourselves permission to write in the genre that gets our blood pumping. That’s mystery for me–I mean, when your favorite book as a fourth-grader was Harriet the Spy, why would you deviate?

There was something else I had to give myself permission for. As an English teacher, wanting to proof and polish after every 500 words or so is in my nature, but not always conducive to getting my story on paper (or computer screen). Sometimes you just need to get those words down and worry about the grammar perfection and beautiful turns-of-phrase later. In my shelved novel, I would bold the items that needed more detail, or even write research questions right into my text. This resulted in some strange re-reads: Elena and Robert waited for a table at what restaurants are on the San Antonio riverwalk?

Sometimes, though, I felt that this created more work in the long run AND left me with holes in my storyline. (That certainly was not because I wasn’t sure where my storyline was headed…right?) Blogger and podcaster Ryan Pelton acknowledges that others may call him a “heretic” but editing as he goes is his go-to form of writing. In one post, he explains that not editing until the end meant his “motivation to edit went out the window.”

Of course, it’s different for everyone, and, while we’re at it, who wants to define editing? For me, if, when typing out a sentence, one of the resident voices-in-head screamed, “No! Use ELUCIDATE!” I listened. Sometimes the voices-in-head were having a philosophical conversation that was one part Mark Twain saying, “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent one will do” and one part high school English teacher asking “What would Strunk and White say?” In those cases, I tried to highlight or bold the problem area and return to it later. Grammarian Liz Bureman says, “If you’re on a four-day creative bender, stopping to edit will slow your momentum and may leave you struggling to pick up where you left off.” Excellent advice for those days we are bogged down by perfection.

When NaNoWriMo time arrived last year–where the goal is to get down 50,000 in one month–I revisited Ms. Bureman’s advice and realized that some days I was just going to need to write for writing’s sake. For some of us, we must force the grammarian in us to allow the creative self to just be. Allow for stream-of-consciousness writing. Allow for mistakes. Allow for imperfections. Allow our creative selves to go where they want to go. The grammar minutiae can wait. And on the days when it can’t, edit as you go. Find what works for you–and that may be different on the daily.

Writers, how do you deal with your inner grammarian whilst writing? Comment (and sign up for my mailing list here) and receive my newest editing helper: The Punctuation Primer in addition to a snippet of The Devil Inside Me.

Readers, what are some things you wish writers would edit out? What do you consider “too much” when you’re reading? Is it dialog? Description? Comment (and sign up for my mailing list here) and receive my newest editing helper: The Punctuation Primer. Even if you aren’t writing a novel, my Punctuation Primer will help you look like grammar nobility in your emails and posts! You’ll also receive a snippet of The Devil Inside Me!

Yes! You Can Be a Writer!

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Who can be a writer? YOU can be a writer!

The first thing I learned from that half-done, now-shelved novel I mentioned earlier this week? 

WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE–and don’t be afraid to do it. Stop asking yourself “am I good enough to be a writer?” You’ll never know until you try, and, chances are, you’re already exhibiting signs. Not sure? Scott Kuttner discusses 12 of them. 

Everyone has probably heard the write-what-you-know mantra, but I’m talking about what books you love. Not just the relatable characters or the author’s unique voice, but the genre. From my ancient, well-loved Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory by J.A. Cuddon, genre is “a kind, a literary type, or class. The major classical genres were epic, tragedy, lyric, comedy and satire, to which would now be added novel and short story.”

Today, we can further break “novel” down: horror, upmarket women’s fiction, dystopian, steampunk, psychological thriller, historical fiction, urban fantasy, mystery, cozy mystery…I could go on and on and on…  

I was terrified to start writing in the genre that has always fascinated me: mystery. Why? I didn’t think I’d be good enough. I mean, when your favorite authors are P.D. James, Dennis Lehane, and Agatha Christie–those are some serious, red-herring-throwing heavy hitters. I’m lucky if I can beat my husband at a game of Clue. I love Sherlock Holmes, but could I even begin to think like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?

And then it happened. The stars aligned and the concept for my current project nestled in my brain. I couldn’t dislodge it. I wished that Dennis Lehane would cross my path, so I could pitch him the idea and beg him to run with it.

Alas, Mr. Lehane never showed up in my rural Midwestern town. So I gave myself permission. Permission to try. Permission to acknowledge that while I may never be Agatha Christie, what harm could there by in trying to write a mystery?

What happened next was mind-blowing. I was much more invested in this idea than I ever was with my last project. I started plotting and researching and pantsing (more on this later) on some days. I was excited to write or research in some fashion every single day, despite having a demanding full-time job. It inspired me to finish my author website, to begin this blog, to reach out to others who are not yet published so that we can share our successes and our challenges, to reach out to future readers who would (gulp!) give me feedback.

Essentially, I gave myself permission to believe in myself.

Incredibly successful blogger and writer Jeff Goins pointed out that our hesitations may actually be because “we’re insecure, we don’t believe we have anything to offer, we think we’ll fail.” He also added that “no one’s going to give you permission to be yourself.”

And that’s the point: Give yourself permission. Permission to try. Permission to fail. Permission to succeed. (Need an extra kick in the pants? Read Elissa Altman’s guest post at Krista Tippett’s site, On Being.) 

Readers AND writers, have you ever had to go through this permission-giving process with yourselves, whether about writing or general life-events? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments!

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.

 

The Journey Begins

As my grandma used to say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so, since I’m certain no one has experienced death-by-blogging, here goes.

Like many of you, I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can recall. When I was a child, my punishment was to go in my room to think upon my misdeeds. I loved my punishment–because it meant I could read! I’d lie down on my floor turning pages until my mom came in with her have-you-thought-about-what-you’ve-done look.

A love of reading is often a companion to writing. Story ideas have always popped up in my head, even in grade school, when a ballerina-turned-astronaut who gave dance recitals for space aliens was a concept I thought would be fascinating (I had a lot of career ideas tumbling in my third-grade head). I was applying the concept of asking “what if” before I even knew it was a thing. (Ever wonder where authors get their ideas? Here’s what Stephen King had to say about it.)

My problem was I never went much beyond the initial ideas in my head. Sometimes I would start writing, but I most certainly never finished. Finally, many years removed from those dancing space explorers, I had what I thought was a compelling-enough idea to sit down and write.  And write I did–60,000 words’ worth, until I finally admitted I didn’t know where it was headed. I couldn’t believe that I was going to do what I had scoffed at others for doing: I was shelving that novel. (AvaJae, author of the young adult series Beyond the Red, discusses this very concept on her writability blog.) It wasn’t me. It wasn’t right. 

But it wasn’t a waste.

I learned so much from that writing experience, and that is just part of what I intend to share here with you, dear readers. Along with dishing about my quest for publication (and all the wicked and wonderful rejections), my goal is two-fold: to provide something for both avid readers and aspiring writers.

Readers, I can’t wait to share with you the backstory and sneak-peeks of my current project: The Devil Inside Me. I would be thrilled and honored to have you all along for this ride. If you are a lover of mysteries and crime novels, if you are a lover of fiction that has some historical basis or connection, then subscribe today to have my blog posts delivered to your inbox! 

For writers, I hope to give you some of the inspiration and encouragement we can all use along this path, especially if you, like me, are an as-of-yet unpublished writer who has a hard time saying you’re a writer. Give yourself permission. My first piece of advice I want to share comes from writing/editing/publishing guru Jane Friedman’s blog post “What It Means to Be a Writer–and to Emerge as a Writer.” She says, “I like to define writer as someone who writes, not someone who is published for their writing per se. Let me qualify that a little: A writer is someone who writes regularly and consistently, someone who engages in the process. If you give yourself to that process, if you do the work, if you write regularly and consistently, then you are not emerging as a writer—you are already engaged, you are already a practicing writer.”  Brilliance.

So, welcome. I’d love to have you along for the ride, this journey of reading and writing and publication.

Follow my blog online, or sign up for my email list to get free snippets of my current novel, backstory on characters and setting, and writing guides!

Please comment and introduce yourselves! Are you a reader? What are your favorite genres and authors? What do you love in a book?

Are you a writer? What have your personal experiences been with writing and publishing? What struggles have you experienced along the way?