This week’s post is coming to you a bit early to coincide with the day commemorating all the missing children in our world. I know this post is a bit of departure from my usual posts, but it does deal directly with my novel, Undeliverable. In the novel, Ben is struggling to deal with the disappearance of his son, and in rather unhealthy ways. So I decided that on this day I would do my part of help draw attention to the sheer number of children who go missing every day, and the families that struggle with that horror. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children states that in 1999 (the most recent comprehensive survey of the data) 800,000 children were reported missing. Thankfully, a large portion of them were returned to their family. Quite a few were involved in custody disputes, some were runaways, very few were stranger abductions. In fact, out of those 800,000, only 115 of them were the stereotypical kidnappings that every parent dreads: the stranger in the night making off with their child. But the Center is there to help find the missing children, regardless of the manner in which they vanished. Between their tip line (which has received nearly 4 million calls since its inception), trainings for local and national law enforcement, and avid lobbying for laws to make our children safer and to make it easier to look for them once they’re gone, they have made quite the difference in the numbers of recovered children. If you want to help support their efforts, they are always open to donations of time or money. I am also announcing here that a portion of the cover price for Undeliverable, when it launches next spring, will be donated directly to the Center to assist them in their efforts to recover every missing child, because no family should have to deal with the disappearance of their Benny.
So 826 is doing a fun project right now, leading up to Youth Literacy Day on August 26. For a week prior to their big celebration, they are inviting the whole of the internet community to play along with prompts like they give their students. I’m late to the bandwagon and missed the first day, but I made it in today! Check out my response to today’s prompt (Five things on your hero’s utility belt) here.
And, if you don’t already know of the wonderful organization that is 826, check it out here. It is a national organization or writing and tutoring centers across the country that actually make it fun for students to write. You heard me write, these rascals are having loads of fun and learning how to be amazing at the same time!
So over at weldonowen.com, they constructed a rather entertaining info-graphic on how a book travels through the publishing process. I got excited for something rather pithy and relevant, but found it really only applies to the non-fiction side of publishing (will still being pithy and relevant). Here is their construct:
It’s pretty much accurate for my day job, and I especially loved the bubble, “Intern accidentally deletes the entire book while entering edits.” But, since this doesn’t do a fabulous job of discussing how one of my fiction books would go through the system, I decided to make my own:
(Just so you know, the font is Typerwriter Hand from John Grafton)
Do a friend of mine recently posted this article to her facebook and I just had to share it with you here. I adore McSweeney’s; they are absolutely hilarious and always intelligent. That’s a rare combination these days. This particular article by Colin Nissan is about Writing Better than you Normally Do, which I so needed to read right now as I embark on a new edit of my novel, since apparently agents are currently finding my main character hard to sympathize with at the beginning of the novel.
Anyway, enough about me, see how you can get this to make you write better…
THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO WRITING BETTER THAN YOU NORMALLY DO.
BY COLIN NISSAN
WRITE EVERY DAY
Writing is a muscle. Smaller than a hamstring and slightly bigger than a bicep, and it needs to be exercised to get stronger. Think of your words as reps, your paragraphs as sets, your pages as daily workouts. Think of your laptop as a machine like the one at the gym where you open and close your inner thighs in front of everyone, exposing both your insecurities and your genitals. Because that is what writing is all about.
Procrastination is an alluring siren taunting you to Google the country where Balki from Perfect Strangers was from, and to arrange sticky notes on your dog in the shape of hilarious dog shorts. A wicked temptress beckoning you to watch your children, and take showers. Well, it’s time to look procrastination in the eye and tell that seafaring wench, “Sorry not today, today I write.”
FIGHT THROUGH WRITER’S BLOCK
The blank white page. El Diablo Blanco. El Pollo Loco. Whatever you choose to call it, staring into the abyss in search of an idea can be terrifying. But ask yourself this; was Picasso intimidated by the blank canvas? Was Mozart intimidated by the blank sheet music? Was Edison intimidated by the blank lightbulb? If you’re still blocked up, ask yourself more questions, like; Why did I quit my job at TJ Maxx to write full-time? Can/should I eat this entire box of Apple Jacks? Is The Price is Right on at 10 or 11?
LEARN FROM THE MASTERS
Mark Twain once said, “Show, don’t tell.” This is an incredibly important lesson for writers to remember; never get such a giant head that you feel entitled to throw around obscure phrases like “Show, don’t tell.” Thanks for nothing, Mr. Cryptic.
FIND YOUR MUSE
Finding a really good muse these days isn’t easy, so plan on going through quite a few before landing on a winner. Beware of muses who promise unrealistic timelines for your projects or who wear wizard clothes. When honing in on a promising new muse, also be on the lookout for other writers attempting to swoop in and muse-block you. Just be patient in your search, because the right muse/human relationship can last a lifetime.
HONE YOUR CRAFT
There are two things more difficult than writing. The first is editing, the second is expert level Sudoku where there’s literally two goddamned squares filled in. While editing is a grueling process, if you really work hard at it, in the end you may find that your piece has fewer words than it did before. Which, is great. Perhaps George Bernard Shaw said it best when upon sending a letter to a close friend, he wrote, “I’m sorry this letter is so long, I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” No quote better illustrates the point that writers are very busy.
ASK FOR FEEDBACK
It’s so easy to hide in your little bubble, typing your little words with your little fingers on your little laptop from the comfort of your tiny chair in your miniature little house. I’m taking this tone to illustrate the importance of developing a thick skin. Remember, the only kind of criticism that doesn’t make you a better writer is dishonest criticism. That, and someone telling you that you have weird shoulders.
READ, READ, READ
It’s no secret that great writers are great readers, and that if you can’t read, your writing will often suffer. Similarly, if you can read but have to move your lips to get through the longer words, you’ll still be a pretty bad writer. Also, if you pronounce “espresso” like “expresso.”
STUDY THE RULES, THEN BREAK THEM
Part of finding your own voice as a writer is finding your own grammar. Don’t spend your career lost in a sea of copycats when you can establish your own set of rules. If everyone’s putting periods at the end of their sentences, put yours in the middle of words. Will it be incredibly difficult to read? Yes it will. Will it set you on the path to becoming a literary pioneer? Tough to say, but you’re kind of out of options at this point.
KEEP IT TOGETHER
A writer’s brain is full of little gifts, like a piñata at a birthday party. It’s also full of demons, like a piñata at a birthday party in a mental hospital. The truth is, it’s demons that keep a tortured writer’s spirit alive, not Tootsie Rolls. Sure they’ll give you a tiny burst of energy, but they won’t do squat for your writing. So treat your demons with the respect they deserve, and with enough prescriptions to keep you wearing pants.
I promise to get you my flash for this week’s prompt eventually. Now that I can actually eat again, I’m starting to be able to think again and there’s a lot of stuff to catch up on.
But I’m off to be sedated today for some fun tests, so enjoy a guest post from Zac Bentley…
Princesses are okay girls. I mean, they can be a bit much at times, but who isn’t? The thing about a princess is that she’s used to being treated like a princess. She knows the role, knows your role, knows how it’s all supposed to go down. She knows that you’ll try and impress her with money, or, failing that, falsely-unique offerings to hide the fact that you have no money. She’s seen it all a million times before. It’s dull for her.
Sure, there’s a chance you could distinguish yourself from the princes—but that means you have to become one, and they’re total douchebags. She might notice you that way, but at what cost? Trust me, you don’t want to pay it.
No, the trick with princesses is to understand one thing: they don’t want to be treated like princesses. That doesn’t mean they want to be treated badly. That means they want to forget. They want you to do things that catch them so totally in the moment that all of thier poise and manners and makeup are forgotten. Princesses don’t want you to treat them like princesses; they want you to give them swords.
If you do that, they’ll notice. If you give them swords and pirate ships and real fights and explosions, they’ll perk up. If you forgo dates, and take them out trespassing, they’ll start to wake up a little. But it’s got to be real. If the princess gets a hint that it might just all be for her—and she will, if it is—she’ll leave. It can’t be for show. Take her with you to do something dangerous. Really dangerous, not theme-park-ride dangerous. Give her responsibilities, and make her take risks. Not because you think she’ll like it, but because you need her to, and if she doesn’t hold the other end of the rope you’ll fall into the lava, and if she doesn’t parry, the Dark Man (or whoever) will run you through with his black rapier. Find those places. Find those experiences. Not for her—with her.
Give a princess a sword.
Who knows who she’ll turn out to be?
It is Leap Day, folks, a time that only comes around once every four years. For some people it’s just a regular day, except that they forget it’s not March yet. For others, it’s a celebration of Leap Day Williams (and yes, I will be wearing blue and yellow).
Now, given that this is a somewhat unique occurance, take this extra day in your life and do something unexpected. Something new. Do an experiment, enrich your life. Involve your friends. Something been on your list for a long time that you wanted to try or get done? Do it. Put yourself out there and finally query an agency or schedule a gig. This is an EXTRA DAY folks, and you get them every four years. Live it to its fullest. And share it with us below!
Me? I think I’m going to start my next novel. If I get enough people sharing their Leap Day experiment, I’ll post the first writing from my next novel here on Friday.
And if you think this is lame, or you’re just too lazy, remember, Leap Day Williams is watching you…
So, when my mother (who is a professional storyteller, for those of you who didn’t know already) moved to Boston, she went out to find a guild/meeting/workshop of like-minded people. One of the groups she found and liked was Story Space, a group of storytellers that host an open mike and featured teller every Tuesday night. And they do mean every Tuesday. My mother had been asking me if I would like to come with her for a while now, seeing as how I’m a writer and do enjoy myself a good storyteller, and I had kept putting her off because I just didn’t know how I was going to fit another thing into my schedule.
But last night was their 20th Anniversary Concert. Mom promised that all the tellers would be good (they were) and that she would cover my ticket. How could I say no? That’s how I found myself in a church in Harvard with a very eclectic mix of people (a good assortment of young ones, I was happy to note) and some quite good storytellers.
I could bore you with details about all the stories told, but it really wouldn’t be doing them justice. They are meant to be told aloud, and trying to parse them down to the page would demolish them. So for the content of the stories, suffice it to say they seemed to only take up an hour and a half instead of the three we were actually sitting there, which can only be a good sign. As for the ‘tellers who were present, my personal favorites were Kevin Brooks, Mike Cohen, Michael Anderson, and Jay O’Callahan. Especially Jay. His excerpted scenes from “Main Street, Jonesborough” were so incredibly powerful.
But the main reason I’m writing on this event is because of the man who was absent. Brother Blue is the man who founded the group in 1992 and passed away two years ago. The group is going strong, mainly because the quirky traditions and love of story that he instilled in them. A lot of the things that were said this evening resonated particularly strong, especially as I am starting to move into hard-core world building for my next novel which will deal quite heavily with storytellers and the imagination.
It appears he had a whole philosophy equating stories with religion, how stories are the language of prayer, and every time you tell a story you should imagine yourself telling it to God. Considering the track of my next novel, I have decided that I must delve more into the life and performance of a man who made stories his religion. It probably won’t come as a shock that he went to graduate school for religion and theater, and carried a doctorate from Yale.
So, I have decided that I need to learn more about this man who passed before I could get to know him. Thankfully, his legacy lives on in an incredible community of ‘tellers.
So, I’m pretty much done with my first round of queries where I had decided to approach agents who represented not only literary fiction but popular genres as well in an effort to obtain one agent that would benefit me over the life of my career. I am now wondering if that was doing a disservice to my novel or whether it was the best thing I could have done.
No, I do not have representation yet, but I have some very interesting feedback. I am more confident than ever in my writing style as I got multiple compliments on the writing itself. No, it was the organization of the plot and the character’s beginning emotional state that is in question.
From the agents I got actual feedback and not a form letter, it appears that they want it to read as more of a suspense novel instead of the literary piece I was striving for. My objection is that I am afraid this will be setting up my readers for disappointment, and I really don’t want to do that. Yes, there are suspense elements, but this is not a suspense novel.
I might be able to address some of this in the way that my protagonist is presented in the novel. By the time we enter the story, he’s already become quite emotionally numb to the ordeal and that may be one of the biggest problems. They can’t connect and engage with him. This is the first I’ve heard of this, but then again, these are all popular fiction agents and I have no idea what would happen if I handed it to agents who only take on literary projects.
So here is the quandary I am mired in. How much editing do I take on before sending it out again? Do I restructure the beginning to more closely resemble a suspense plot? Do I reframe the lead to be more of an emotionally accessible character? Or do I stick to what i have and send it to the next round of agents (which I’d already decided was going to be a strictly literary crowd)? This isn’t supposed to be the next Lovely Bones, but I think it could be the next Olive Kitteridge. Literary at heart with a wide popular appeal. In which case, I probably have a bit more work to do again before I start the next set of queries.
I didn’t think this was going to be the hardest part of being a writer. I definitely thought it was going to be the editing I would have to force myself to do BEFORE sending out to agents and all. But no, this is definitely the hardest part. Of course, I say this before getting past it, and who knows what kind of sand traps could come next. I know one author who really hates book tours, another who hates writing the first draft. I guess it’s all just dependent on the individual.
If you are looking for a cute little stocking stuffer for your bookworm friends or need that special something for your own tree, this is it. A mini Chicago Manual of Style!
Don’t mind how small my tree is. The ornament ends up 3.5″ tall. Just makes my Charlie Brown sized tree look that much smaller! Anyway, it’s a very simple paper folding project and takes about five minutes to put together–so what’s stopping you?! Directions can be found here: Chicago Manual of Style Ornament.
Credit, of course, goes to the University of Chicago Press. Thanks guys!
For those of you who enjoy reading fantasy, particularly fantasy featuring dragons, I am sure that you have read Anne McCaffrey. She was a goddess of the fantasy novel; her world constructions were beyond believable, and she truly lived her work. Her books were some of my firsts–first dragon warfare, first time I wished I would be chosen by a dragon, first sex scene. She is also probably the reason I ended up owning a bearded dragon in high school (I really wanted a dragon small enough to perch on my shoulder).
Alas, Ms. McCaffrey passed this week, and the geek community celebrates her work and life and all of the hours of pleasure she gave to us while we mourn the fact that there will be no new Dragon Riders of Pern. (Well, maybe, there are vague rumors floating about that she had been working on a new one.)
Here’s to hoping she was reborn as a golden dragon, matched with a fearless woman, and is even now soaring through the skies of Pern.