Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Getting Published as a Teen Part 2

10 comments:
This question has been covered here before (click here to see the original post), but I received an e-mail last week from a writer saying that it's her number 1 dream to be published as a teenager, and she wanted to know if I had advice.

Last time I talked about the realities of being published and reasons why being published as a teen might not be so great. This time I'll focus on what you can do to make this dream come true.

Because even though I stand by everything I said in my original post, I get where you're coming from. My goal was to be published as a teen too. And then when I opted out of college, my goal was to be published by age 22 so when my friends were all getting their diplomas, I could point to book on the shelves of Barnes & Noble and say, "See? I accomplished something too."

I didn't achieve either of these goals. Partly because they're hard things to achieve, but also because I wasn't good enough to be published at that age. The stuff I wrote then makes me cringe. So a better goal would have been to be good enough to be published.

I don't believe in setting goals that depend on somebody else. Goals need to be something that you have the power to achieve. So you can have the dream of being published as a teen, but to achieve this dream for yourself, set goals that you can accomplish.

Here are the ones I would suggest:

1. Read a lot/Write a lot

This is why publication is something that often takes a long time. Because it takes a lot of writing to get good at it. If you're serious about getting published, start here.

2. Carve time out of your schedule for writing, and protect it fiercely.

Achieving a dream like being published as a teenager will require sacrifices. Same as being in the school play or on a soccer team means sacrificing time with friends/time for vegging, your writing will have to as well.

3. Go to a conference

I went to my first writer's conference when I was in high school. I took a Friday off from school, and my dad (who's not a writer, just supportive) went with me. I was the youngest one there by about 20 years. I was too shut off to make friends with any of the other writers, but I talked to all my teachers and even an editor from Simon and Schuster. I didn't realize it at the time, but I'm pretty sure they all thought it was "adorable" that I was there. And I think the same thing when I'm at conferences now and see high school students there. (Though I don't find it quite as adorable when their guardian thinks I'm also in high school. That woman got the shock of a life when I stood up from the dinner table, revealing my big 8-month-pregnant belly.)

At conferences you'll meet other writers, you'll attend classes, and you'll have appointments with editors and agents who will talk to you honestly about the industry and your chances. They're expensive, but they're valuable.

If you can't go to conference, then consider

4. Entering a contest

I entered the first three chapters of Me, Just Different in the ACFW contest for unpubbed writers. I had a big enough ego to think it was a shoe-in. Not only did I not final, my judges ripped it apart.

Ouch.

Turns out the opinions of my husband, parents, and close friends are quite different than those of writing professionals. And while that hurt, the advice I received from those judges is what led me to changing my story, and those changes are what snagged me my agent and publishing house.

Ultimately, you don't get to decide if you'll be published as a teenager. That's up to a pub board somewhere. But if you want to do everything you can to keep them from rejecting your manuscript, the above 4 goals will help.

Have a writing question? E-mail me.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The internal and the external of scenes

8 comments:
Sometimes I read scenes in my manuscripts and think, "Um ... no. Something isn't working."

More times than not, the problem is that I've only written one "layer" of the scene.

All scenes need to have an internal and an external. There needs to be stuff happening both on the outside of the character (car chases, dialogue, dinner prep, etc.) as well as the inside (thoughts, emotions). And when you have just one of those things going on, your scene is going to feel flat.

Like most things, there's a balance to be achieved. Think of it like a car chase in a movie. They don't just show the external shots of the cars, right? And they don't just have a dashboard cam on the actors either. They cut from one to the other. Which is what you should do too.

The place this can be trickiest (for me, anyway) is dialogue-intense scenes. Especially in a rapid-fire, argument scene.

This is a scene from Me, Just Different that I've edited so it's written purely with external qualities:

“I’m not scared.”

“Then what’s wrong?”

He looked around the dark neighborhood and lowered his voice, as if someone might be listening even this early in the morning. “Please don’t make me say something that’s just going to hurt you. Let’s leave this alone, okay?”

I planted my hands on my hips. “You know that’s never going to happen.”

Connor paced the width of the sidewalk. “I’m such an idiot.” He tugged at his hair. “Why did I tell you I think you’re beautiful?”

“I already knew you thought that.”

He didn’t say anything, just continued pacing.

“So . . . what now?”

He stopped moving, looked at me. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, what happens now?”

“We’re friends. Best friends.”

I clamped my teeth over my lower lip. “I don’t understand. If you’re attracted to me, then what’s the problem? Is it my mom?”

“No.”

“Jodi?”

“Of course not.”

“Then what?”

Irritation seeped into his voice. “Stop pushing, okay?”

“I won’t. I want you to tell me, honestly, why you won’t date me.”

Connor’s hands raked through his hair over and over. Finally, he said, “As a favor to me, I’m begging you to not make me discuss this anymore.”

“I’m a tough girl, I can take it.”



And here's the same scene, but the internal perspective has been added (in bold):



“I’m not scared.”

“Then what’s wrong?”

He looked around the dark neighborhood and lowered his voice, as if someone might be listening even this early in the morning. “Please don’t make me say something that’s just going to hurt you. Let’s leave this alone, okay?”

I planted my hands on my hips. “You know that’s never going to happen.”

Connor paced the width of the sidewalk. “I’m such an idiot.” He tugged at his hair. “Why did I tell you I think you’re beautiful?”

“I already knew you thought that.”

He didn’t say anything, just continued pacing. I tried to be patient, but I had limits. “So . . . what now?”

He stopped moving, looked at me. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, what happens now?”

“We’re friends. Best friends.”

I clamped my teeth over my lower lip until I knew I could speak without crying. This was embarrassing enough without an emotional breakdown. “I don’t understand. If you’re attracted to me, then what’s the problem? Is it my mom?”

“No.”

“Jodi?”

“Of course not.”

“Then what?”

Irritation seeped into his voice. “Stop pushing, okay?”

“I won’t. I want you to tell me, honestly, why you won’t date me.”

Connor’s hands raked through his hair over and over. Finally, he said, “As a favor to me, I’m begging you to not make me discuss this anymore.”

“I’m a tough girl, I can take it.” But Connor knew how soft I was inside.


In heavy action scenes (yes, dialogue counts!) the trick is to sprinkle in enough internal elements to enhance, but not slow the pace.

Next week we'll talk about the internal and external of the story as a whole.

Have a great weekend, guys!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Great story ideas, but no expertise to write them

4 comments:
A writer e-mailed me to ask: "What do I do when I have a GREAT story idea that I don't have the expertise to write? They say write what you know, and I don't know anything about this. It would take medical experts, legal experts, psychiatrists etc. Until you're a published author with "links" you can't really find people who know that information. But I don't want to "waste" the story idea... so what do I do?"

This is a great question.

I read an interview with Jodi Picoult (that I can't seem to locate at the moment) where she talked about how boring her childhood was. So she decided that instead of writing what she knew, she would write what she could learn. She does fascinating research for her books and talks about it on her web site. Click on "About" and then "FAQs" and scroll through there. Why there's no direct link, I have no idea. Very frustrating for bloggers. Anyway.

I'm in no way a lover of research, but all stories will demand it in some capacity. And fortunately, we live in a time where information is very accessible. You know what I do when I have a research question and can't find what I need via Google? I ask the people around me. I send out an e-mail to the writers' loop I'm on. "Anyone know a heart surgeon who'd be willing to answer a couple questions?" If there's no response there, I turn to Facebook. Facebook gets responses every single time.

People love sharing their expertise! It's why many writers have blogs about the craft of writing - it's our expertise. And it's our expertise because it's something we enjoy doing and talking about. Doctors and lawyers and policemen and accountants and anybody else you can think of tend to be the same way. (Maybe not accountants.)

I'll grant that before I was published, I felt far less comfortable reaching out for my research. But ... that's just the way the biz works, so if you're in love with the idea, and the idea takes research, then you suck it up and figure out a way to get it done. I swear most people will find it "adorable" that you're writing a book.

So if you don't have a writers loop, try putting out some feelers on Facebook. You'll be surprised how quickly those connections can happen. Or heck, post in the comments section below what kind of professionals you're trying to talk to, and we'll see if we can hook you up.

Have a writing question? E-mail me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why bother to write?

4 comments:
Here's a hint - the answer isn't "So I'll get published."

I think on some level we all know publication might not be in the cards for us. That's a frustrating thought, isn't it? We yearn to share our writing. I don't know why, but we do. And on this blog we talk a lot about things we can do to improve as writers. We don't talk about improvement for improvement's sake, right? We talk about it because we want to get good enough to be published. Or at least, I assume most of us do.

I've been a published author for a little over a year now. I won't lie to you - in lots of ways, it's awesome. But don't assume that publication will validate you as a person. (It won't.) Don't assume that getting your first book published will lead to a second or third. (There's no guarantee.) Don't assume the rejection is over once you get that contract. (Couldn't even keep a straight face while I typed that one...)

Honestly, some days I want to go back to being an aspiring novelist rather than a published novelist. Before this became my job, the only expectations were the ones I had for myself. I didn't have the pressure of satisfying my agent, who for whatever reason believed in me. I didn't have to worry about marketing, promoting, and all the other non-writing activities that come with this vocation. And I didn't have to worry about letting down my publishing house with less-than-stunning sales numbers.

All I had to do was write. Which I love even on my worst writing day, when the words are tough to find and my characters aren't leaping off the page like I'd hoped. I write because I love to write. If my agent queries every possible publishing house with my next project and they all say, "Thanks, but no thanks," I will keep writing. It's who I am. And same as my husband doesn't feel quite like himself when he doesn't get to exercise (the weirdo), I don't feel quite like Stephanie when I don't get to write.

Don't give up on your dream of being published, but don't let it be everything. Don't allow your feelings of success or failure to be dictated by the opinion of some pub board. Just trying makes you successful.

And now, off to do what I love - write.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How do you get to know your characters?

5 comments:
A writer e-mailed me to ask "What do you use to form your characters into individuals that you know everything about?"

Excellent question. Especially since these days I actually have an answer for that.

Lots of writers swear by those character profile forms you can fill out. I was very good at printing out those kinds of things, but every time I tried to fill them out, I got too bored to finish even one.

So I used to use my first draft as a way to get to know my characters. This led to lots of revisions since I didn't get the hang of my main character's voice until about halfway through. And for secondary characters, it took longer.

And then I read The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell (I know I talk about this book all the time. It's just that good.) He talks about a technique he uses where he journals for his characters. I've talked about it on here before. (Click here to read that post.)

I'm completely in love with character journaling. Sometimes it comes to me way easier than the actual novel writing does. And since I'm working on a new project right now (or, to be accurate, reworking a project that I love so much I'm never happy with the way it turns out), I'm actually doing character journals right now.

I always start with my main character. I ask them some kind of question ("How do you feel about your name?" "What's your relationship with your mom like?") and then they just take over. Usually for pages. It's particularly useful when you're trying to get in the head of the antagonist and other secondary characters. It gives them a voice of their own, motives of their own, etc. Remember, they have a story to tell too. The world doesn't revolve around your main character, regardless of what they may think.

All those other details - birthdays, a favorite color, appearance - I jot down on a spreadsheet as I write the first draft. I find those things don't really matter. Like, it's important to be consistent, but the reader cares more about your characters insides than outsides. Start there and the rest of that stuff will work itself out.

Have a writing question? E-mail me. I'm serious. Most of you apologize when you e-mail me with your questions, but I really love receiving them. Makes my life fun, and my blogging easy :)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Setting Writing Goals

13 comments:
Here in Kansas City, school is getting ready to start. As a student, this was always a favorite time of mine. The new packets of paper, the flawless folders, the clean notebooks. I loved that I hadn't flunked anything yet, or humiliated myself in gym class, or been caught passing a note when I should have been taking them.

And even though I've been out of school for 10 years now (hallelujah!) this has remained a time of year that feels like a chance for a fresh start. A time of untapped potential. A time to make some goals.

In his fabulous book on writing, The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell talks about the importance of goals, and I completely agree.

In the past I've written very specific goals. ("In September I'll finish edits on my manuscript and send it to Roseanna. In October I'll complete the project and turn it into my editor.") If you're in a more predictable stage of your life, I really encourage this. I'm eager to get back to the days of specific and aggressive goals.

But with a newborn in the house, and a writing career that's at more of a crossroads than I like, this really just isn't possible for me at the moment. So instead of throwing out the whole notion of goals all together, I instead just have to allow myself more of a time cushion. Here's my goals:

1. To finish the first draft of my WIP (work in progress) by December 11th.

2. To finish the first round of edits on my WIP by January 31st.

3. To finish the second round of edits on my WIP by February 14th and send it to my cript partner, Roseanna. (Who I'm sure will crack it right open on Valentine's Day ... especially since she sent me a manuscript, oh, a thousand years ago and I haven't gotten back to her yet.)

4. To input her edits and have the final polish done within 2 weeks of her returning the manuscript to me.

What are your goals for this fall? For this school year?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How do you outline your stories?

10 comments:
A writer e-mailed me to ask, "What do you use for an outline of your stories?"

A year or so ago, I would have proudly told you that I don't outline, that I'm what they call a "Seat of the pants writer," or a "pantser." Typically writers are either pantsers or plotters, but more and more I find people who fit into both categories. Which is where I am now. (A plantser?)

Here's what my writing process is now:

1. I have an idea that I'm pretty sure will support a novel.

2. As soon as the perfect first line/opening scene hits me, I write the first three chapters. These first three are a very exploratory time. Sometimes I drop in lines that foreshadow things I'm still feeling pretty fuzzy on. If a character wants to say something totally random and borderline stupid, I let them. This is my time to get a handle on who these people are and what kind of potential they've got.

3. When I finish the first three chapters, I write my synopsis. (A one- to two-page summary of my book with all the important details. For more information on this, click here.)

4. I write the rest of the book, referring back to my synopsis on occasion.

The first time I did this, it was because I had to. My agent wanted a book proposal, which is the first three chapters and a synopsis. I grumbled the whole time I was writing my synopsis and vowed that as soon as I became the next Stephenie Meyer, I was totally going to return to my way of doing things.

Then about 75% of the way through my book, I got seriously sick. I actually fainted one morning and had to be rushed to the ER, which lead to taking a week off writing and got me seriously out of my groove. When I returned to work and my characters and plot felt like strangers, it was so nice to be able to read my synopsis and get back in the swing of things.

So that's my process for now. I'm always trying new systems/ideas I hear from other writers, seeing if anything else sticks.

I'm curious to know others' answers to this question. What have you found works for you? Do you tend to be more of a pantser or a plotter?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Feeling like reading or writing

3 comments:
A writer e-mailed me and said, "I always feel like reading (or writing) something, but I never know what to read (or write). Is this normal?"

Well, I can't relate to the book thing because I constantly have way more books waiting to be read than I do time to read them. If you don't know what to read, here's a couple things you can do:

1. Lots of authors talk on their blogs or websites about other authors they enjoy. So check out the sites of some of your favorite writers and see what they're recommending.

2. Talking to your reader friends. You can even join something like Goodreads so you can get updates about what your friends are reading.

3. Talk to librarians or employees at book stores. They probably have more suggestions than you'll know what to do with.

Regarding writing. Yes, I think it's normal to have the feeling of, "Wouldn't it be nice to write? If only I had the perfect idea/a big chunk of time/a guarantee that the time investment would matter/enter various other excuse here."

If writing is something you're interested in doing, then do it. Even if you have just a hint of an idea and you're not really sure what's going to happen past the first paragraph. Even if you only have ten minutes. Even if you end up just writing about what you did that day.

When I'm asked what I do for a living, I'm shocked by how many people respond with, "Oh, I always wanted to write a book..." It happens all the time. It makes me sad.

I don't know what your specific road block is. Maybe it's the blank page staring at you, and you just don't know how to get started. Maybe you're afraid of people making fun of you, or of failing. Maybe, like me, the problem is time. If you're truly interested in writing, do what you can to pinpoint the obstacles, and then do what you can to destroy them. Or like in my case, where I don't really want to destroy my 2 kids, do what you can to creatively work around them.

Hopefully this helps.

Have a question? Email me.