Friday, April 24, 2015

50 Shades of Rejection

by Sarah Reichert

This year’s NCW conference was, as in years past, very inspirational.  But one of the best ideas I borrowed was a backwards competition devised by Meryl DePasquale who presented on getting your poetry published.  She and one of her friends once competed to see who could reach a certain number of rejection letters within the year.

Why not just give yourself 50 paper cuts and pour lemon juice on them?  Well, besides being perversely cruel, this challenge actually accomplishes something other than whimpering and crying.

First of all, it helps you look at rejections as something less unpleasant to receive.  It makes you more grateful to open those emails and know that you are on your way to reaching your goal.  Secondly, it gets you to put things out there with less fear than you might have before.  Getting a rejection gets you closer to that golden number but if you don’t… well, publishing is a pretty decent alternative.

So, I’ve started this with one of my very good writer friends.  I feel like she’ll probably take the lead of the two of us.  She’s a far better writer, much more organized when it comes to submitting, has more publishing experience, and is familiar with the outlets most likely to get her work out there. (In short she’s fabulous and I’m striving to emulate her).  In the end, the game isn’t really against one another, it’s an exercise in learning to accept those “Oh, sorry, no thanks” letters with a graceful shrug of the shoulders and to support your fellow writer in their endeavors.

I’ve gotten three queries out and two rejections (48 and counting baby).  I’m dusting off three short stories that have sat on my computer, ignored, since their last rejections waiting to be put into the game.  I have poetry that I’ve always wanted make-over and submit, and a short novel that has been hanging, at near completion, because I didn’t have a reason to finish.

Meryl DePasquale changed my perspective, and made me realize that no matter how many times my work is rejected it doesn’t stop me from creating or believing in what I write.  It’s getting easier to sweep up the work they’re casting away and throw it on the next editor/agent/publisher’s desk.  And that’s what succeeding in writing is all about.  Tenacious optimism in the midst of varying shades of rejection.

What are you submitting lately?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Power of Pencil and Paper

By April Moore

I'm a paper and pencil kind of gal, especially when it comes to brainstorming. I like to grab a cup of coffee or tea, find a cozy corner, and let the pencil do the talking.

Some days, my train of thought is a bullet train, whizzing past all kinds of ideas, while other days, I feel like the Little Engine That (barely) Could. But no matter what, I write down every what-if, every maybe, and every piece of thought that passes through the landscape of my mind.

My notes often read like this: Maybe she can do this and that means that so-and-so has to already be there, but wait, no, that can't work because I have to introduce the guy with the cupcakes and trained monkey . . . (well, sort of like that).
That's pretty much how it goes. I write down everything that comes to mind. I call it my Train in a Hurricane. It's my chance to get away from the incessant glow of my laptop screen and away from Blank Word Doc Anxiety, and write up a storm. If I don't get these thoughts and ideas out, they can get lost and forgotten, like a note thrown from the window of a speeding train.

After months of struggling with coming up with my next novel, I finally had a break through by using my tried-and-true method; I have my idea. In the wake of this two-day brainstorm, my characters and plot have emerged into the clearing, a little ragged from the storm, but ready to go.

I know some writers can't fathom going old school and using this method, but if you're one of those, I urge you to give it a try. Pick up a pencil, grab some paper, and board your train of thought---it could be a real fun (and productive) ride.

How do you brainstorm?

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Last Chapter (And the Epilogue)

Post by Jenny

I reached somewhat of a milestone last week, when my critique group finally made it through the last chapter of my novel. (And the epilogue.) For months, I’ve brought one chapter at a time, to have it read aloud by another member of the group. Page by page, we drew closer to the end, until there was only one chapter remaining. (And the…well, you know.)

I admit, I was a bit nervous, much as I was when I brought the first chapter. First and last chapters are important. A novel is kind of like a sandwich in that way. Even if there are great things in the middle, whatever is on both ends (the bread-chapters) must hold it together in a satisfying way. So there I was, with my ending slice of bread—and the pickle on the side, which is how I now think of an epilogue—anxiously hoping it wouldn’t all fall apart.

To my great relief, everyone was happy with the conclusion. Since then, I’ve been thinking of how much I have learned from the process of having a novel critiqued from start to finish. Even though I’m the creator and writer of said novel, I realized that sometimes I don’t know it or the characters as well as I thought. Sometimes I brought a chapter that I felt was a little weak, only to hear that it was solid and served an important purpose in furthering the story. On other occasions, I brought a chapter that felt like a homerun, only to have the group’s astute questions and observations point out the shortcomings of my imagined brilliance.

And my characters, who have taken out long-term leases inside my head…I’m more familiar with them than anyone, and yet there were numerous occasions when a critique group member would say, “I don’t think s/he would do/say that. It seems…“ (You know what’s coming, right?) “Out of character.” More often than not it was the right call, and I would wonder why I didn’t see it. I suppose the reason is that we all have blind spots where our writing is concerned, much as we do with our children. (Except mine, which are perfect.) When a fellow writer can point them out in a kind and constructive way, it is exceptionally helpful. A few tasty snacks don't hurt, either.

If you’re in a critique group, how has it helped you?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Too Much of a Good Thing

by Kelly Baugh

Rant Begins:

Guess what’s happening outside my window right now? It’s snowing. Can I describe to you the bone-chilling weariness I feel at the sight of the white, slushy sludge? The despair I feel knowing I have packed up all our winter coats, hats and mittens, thinking I was surely safe to do so? The revulsion I feel knowing the wet dog smell that will fill our home the next few days? No I cannot. So I won’t.

And yes I know I should be a good Coloradoan and repeat the party line, “Well, we could use the moisture.” (Aside: can anyone imagine an instance where we wouldn’t say that? Would snowpack have to be upwards of 300% before some brave soul said, “NO! I am sick of the moisture! We do not need any more moisture!!!”).

Rant Ends:

In light of this meteorological horror story of too much winter (and the fact that my blog was due), I decided to turn my focus to too much of a good things in writing. We’ve all heard the line-up of the usual offenders:

  • Excessive adverbs 
  • Distracting dialogue tags 
  • Pointless backstory 
  • Telling not showing 
My own particular weakness is distracting dialogue tags. With every edit of my manuscripts, I find myself cutting out more and more until someone in my critique group says, “Wait, I don’t understand who’s talking.” That when I think, “Success! I’m finally close.”

All of us are heavy handed in certain elements of writing. Which one is your particular weakness? How do you try to address it? And how do you handle a winter that won't stop?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dark Writing Days

By J.C. Lynne

If you read my posts or follow me, you know ninety-eight percent of the time I’m joyful in my writing pursuit. I’m fortunate to be surrounded and supported by people, not the least of which is the Beard, who believe in my words.

Seriously, any dissatisfaction seems like a big ol’ whine fest.

Welcome to the Lalapalooza of Morose. I blame it on finishing my second novel. I’ve arrived at a strange limbo transit station where my brain is a little fried.

A two week visit from the Plague didn’t help and now I’m experiencing issues with my healing ankle. I’m feeling unproductive, relatively useless, and generally meh.

This isn’t my norm and I don’t expect it to last long but damn it, I’m irritating me! The weather is brightening up. I’m sending two manuscripts to the editor today. I actually vacuumed the house yesterday. So what is my frickin’ problem?

I can’t tell you. I just know I almost pulled a Stephen King and burned the manuscripts the other day. Thank goodness the Beard intervened.

I’m the person who reminds people it takes years of work. There is no such thing as an overnight success story. Every time I hear the phrase a little digging reveals how long the successful person has worked their ass off to be a hit.

Two weeks of the flu led to binging on Netflix and Amazon Instant. Go back through some of those old shows and it’s a cavalcade of young faces that are, today, huge celebrities. We’re talking ten or fifteen years of bit parts and one-liners.

I have completed two novels, one published and one in the chute. That is no mean feat, but my brain is slogging through the ankle-deep muck.

Writing is work. Anyone who says differently isn’t a writer. It’s pushing through those two hundred word days, rejoicing in the three thousand word days, and resigning yourself to the hours of editing and shaping that fall in between. I love it. Really, every butt-dragging word.

The big question is how to shake me out of this mood and jump into a new story. I’m looking at eleven projects on which I can work.

It’s a sad day in this writer’s life when laundry is the most appealing option.

Monday, April 13, 2015

I Hate Writing (Said Someone Else)

by Rich, lover of all things writing

In the world of romantic partnerships, there has never been one more fragile than that between an author and their writing. The emotional swings between the joy and pure hatred of their work make Taylor Swift swoon in giddy horror at the amount of break-up songs she would need to write. These emotional flips can take place at any moment in the writing process. An author can be humming along one minute, elated at the creation of a new universe, and hold their laptop out the window the next minute in an attempt to scare it into producing better material.

I’ve seen this in person, and not just in the bathroom mirror. I recently talked down an author – name withheld to prevent a tire slashing – who went on a rant about their writing and how they didn’t need to have anyone review it because they knew they wrote good-like. I knew this author had issues coming up with new material, particularly on a deadline. Combined with other pressures, the author could barely open a Word document without retching.

Many of you are in the same boat right now, mentally chastising me for coming up with the idea for this column. To you, and the other authors who are on a trial separation with their writing, here is some advice to consider once your blood pressure recedes.

Take a step back: Like you do in situations where amped-up emotions lead to possible confrontations it’s best to take a step away from your pad, laptop, or Smith-Corona typewriter when you feel anger start to simmer. You can’t make a logical decision when your mind is full of malice and you have an urge to break all of your pens.

Change the environment: Many of us work in environments that lack natural light, fresh air, and adequate sources of caffeine. Hours spent in these locations without human contact can turn the most joyful person into a candidate for the patron saint of crankiness. Before succumbing to the Dark Side, get out as fast as you can, even if it’s a short walk or bike ride to the neighborhood park or coffee ship.

Socialize, darn it: It’s human nature to make personal contact with others, be it a friend or writing colleague. This type of socialization helps lighten moods, clears the cranial cobwebs, fortifies you with wine, and, if there are cameras around, sets up an episode for a reality series titled Angry Writers Gone Good. By the way, making this connection via social media or instant messaging does not count.

Heed this advice and you may have a chance reconciling with your writing. Oh, new batteries for the mouse and cleaning your computer screen help as well.

What advice do you have for authors who hate their writing?

Podcast Alert: Mark Leslie, the Director of Writing Life at Kobo, is interviewed on the NCW Podcast today. Listen at the Northern Colorado Website, iTunes, PodOmatic, or the PodOmatic app for Android and Apple.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Setbacks, Mummies, and the Holy Ghost

By Sarah Reichert

Jimmy Buffett once wrote that vampires, mummies, and the Holy Ghost were the things that terrified him the most.  To this list I’d like to add porcelain dolls, clowns, and running injuries (my setback of choice this week).

Let me begin by saying, I’m a highly goal-motivated person.  Its what gets me up in the morning.  Its what keeps me pushing through the long miles of running and the late nights of writing.  Goals keep the house running smoothly and my days packed full.  They drive me over the hurdles of life by keeping just ahead in the distance, calling me ever onward and ever forward.

Goals can help you design a path to your own success.  But, and as a mom I should know, goals are often blown to smithereens by the powerful but sometimes small setback. 

Later today I will find out if my left fibula has developed a crack in its slender shaft.  Days of prodding, guessing, wondering, trying different movements and shoes have left me with no concrete answers if this will be the hairline fracture that will end my years-long goal of completing a marathon.  Despite all of my best planning, my conservative training regime, and care in form, it very well may be my fate to never see the finish line. 

Last August I talked about pushing through set backs, holding steady along the rocky road to your dreams and I stand by that.  But I think its important to mention that goals as fixed marks should not determine your happiness and sense of self worth.  They should be mobile.  And you should learn to be okay with that.

Part of what succeeding is knowing how and when to fail. 

Maybe that book you’ve optioned for years hasn’t made progress.  Maybe every perfect query and second request has met a dead-end.  Knowing when to accept that your work (all of that hard earned and early-morning-sleep-deprived work) is not up to par is important too.  Does it mean you should give up?  No.  Absolutely not.  It means a different road may be called for.  Pull-back, regroup, understand your fundamental flaws and take the time to correct them. 

By this afternoon I’ll know, but instead of fearing the set back and letting it destroy my drive I’m making a conscious decision to make it an opportunity to start anew from a healthier and more forgiving place.  

How do you deal with set-backs? 

Share a Post