How to Survive Your Toughest Draft

For the last couple of years, every time one of my writer pals would ask me what I was working on, the answer was the same breezy, “Oh, I’m still plugging away on that rockstar mom book I told you about ages ago.”

I’m pretty sure that more than a few of them wondered if I shouldn’t just give it up and move on to something else. Something that would actually get written. And if they didn’t, they were stronger, better writers than me because that was something I wondered every time I sat down with my laptop.

But I persisted, mostly out of sheer stubbornness, and I completed a very, very messy first draft in April of last year. In November, I finally had it shaped into something resembling a novel.

FINALLY!

I’m not sure why this draft took so much longer than anything else I’ve ever written. I could cite a busier-than-ever family life, or a robust year of paid freelance work. Maybe it was because most days, I can be best described as a “ball of anxiety with fingers.”

But I can tell you how I got through an interminable draft (and managed to avoid quitting writing entirely!).

I Was Selfish. My mantra this past year has been “eyes on your own paper.” I withdrew from social media, avoided contests, and spent a lot less time engaging with other writers. It was difficult, and I felt like a jerk, but I knew that my top priority needed to be getting my work done. I am thrilled for my friends who have been out in the world this past year, but I knew I would not be with them. Not right now. Right now, my entire focus had to be a bit selfish. Eyes on my own work.

But Not Too Selfish. Instead of focusing on what *I* wanted – to finish the draft, to write a great book, to get an agent, to get a publishing contract – I made a choice instead to focus on service. We’re writing books for people, specifically children and/or teens, to read. So while I wanted to tell the story of my heart, I kept in mind that, ultimately, that heart-story needed to be in service of the teenage reader. That guiding star helped me re-focus when my way wandered and kept me writing when it seemed I would never get done.

I lowered my expectations. For years, I wrote 1,000 words a day, five days a week. I had reasonable expectations of finishing a draft in a couple of months, of being able to query a book every year, of catching the attention of an agent in the near future. But this year, I realized that wasn’t going to be possible. I spent some time looking over those expectations in a bright light, and I realized that they weren’t doing me any good. I’m a goal-setter and a rule-follower, but that doesn’t matter much in the wider world. No one is lining up to give me a cookie because I did things in the right order, in the right way, at the right time. So I made 2017 the year of NO expectations, other than that I would keep my head down and keep writing.

I used a timer. In order to take some pressure off but still keep getting words down, I started writing for 15 timed minutes each day. That was it. When the timer went off, I stopped. If it was the middle of a sentence, so much the better! That way I had a starting point for the next day. There were days when I only logged 5-10 words on a tricky scene. But I counted those as writing sessions and just kept going.

I relinquished control. Years ago, a colleague of mine listened to me rant about how other people were failing to do their jobs and it was ruining what I was doing. She said, “Well, you can’t control the outcome. You can only control what you put in to it.” That rattled through my head this year. I can’t control what happens with this or any piece of writing. All I can do is control what I put into it. So that is all I worried about.

I reached out. A few times over the course of the year, I did reach out to other writers to share what was going on with me and to reconnect with their work. Getting out of my head was important, but even better was the chance to share in others’ creative processes, successes and challenges. I went out and saw art and live music, too, feeding my own creativity. Writing is so solitary that it’s nice to remember there are other artists out there traveling a similar path.

I looked for joy, not results. I won’t sugarcoat it: for months I was pretty sure I was going to quit writing entirely. Writing for me is a singular joy. Word counts and pursuing publication and developing platform are not joyful. Letting go of the results side of writing for goal-oriented me was painful for my ego, but it was manna for the creative part of my soul, the part that just wants to play with words and stories and doesn’t actually care if anyone reads them. That play without pressure was revitalizing in a way that I desperately needed this year.

Some might call what I experienced this past year Writer’s Block. But I don’t think that’s what it was, even after taking two years to draft a novel. After all, I wrote all the time, and the words flowed fine, when I could find the time to let them flow.

But something happened with this year, with this manuscript that tested me – and I was reminded again that writing fiction is not for the faint-hearted!

If you find yourself facing a similar time of slow production mixed with a bit of despair and a burning desire to quit the game entirely, I have some advice:

Take a deep breath.

Then: Head down, do the work however you can, don’t worry about the mess, keep your eyes on your own paper.

Find your joy.

 

RICHELLE MORGAN writes, works, plays and drinks too much coffee in Portland, Oregon, often in the company of her husband and their three spirited children. When not writing fiction for young adults and children, she pens fundraising letters and other marketing copy for progressive nonprofit organizations. Richelle keeps an occasional blog about nonprofit marketing and communication. She has also written feature articles for The Oregonian, and her short fiction has appeared in Voicecatcher. You can find her on Twitter.

New Goals + New Approach = New Opportunities

Photo by Nordwood Themes

The new year is here. What does that mean? Resolutions! We all make them and unfortunately about one third of us break them. I’m sad to say I am in that group. Let me give you some examples from my life.

Resolution 1: Cut out frivilous spending. Reality: This beautiful journal with the sun and stars cover will make me a better writer. I need it.

Resolution 2: Stop eating sugar. Reality: My friend, who was born to be a baker, made a platter of chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting and a sugar Wonder Woman symbol. I can’t say no. That would be rude.

As writers, we face enough rejection. Why add more opportunities for that? If you’re like me, not meeting goals brings out self-doubt and I was sure the answer to this problem was not to make resolutions. But we all need things to strive for. It’s how we push ourselves, how we grow, and how we become better people.

After looking at what I accomplished last year and accepting that not everything works as planned (post here) , I realized my problem wasn’t the act of making goals, it was the types of goals I made. So this year I’m putting a new spin on my resolutions.

 

NEW APPROACH

Photo by Estee Janssen

As 2017 was coming to an end and I started thinking about what I wanted to accomplish in the coming year, two phrases put me on a new track.

First, my taekwondo instructor reminded me that pushing yourself a little every day leads to a big change at the end of the year. Okay, she was talking about stretching, but I’m sure the concept can be used for many things.

Second, during an interview, race car driver Danica Patrick said she strives to achieve her goals every day but acknowledges life happens and sometimes she’ll miss a few.

I’m using these concepts to make my resolutions this year. Instead of making big, inflexible goals, I’m focusing on achieving great things through persistence and being consistent.

Let’s look at a few writing goals I have seen online.

1. Write a book. Writing a book is a wonderful goal and you would assume in twelve months, you could make that happen. But sometimes the book does not want to be written. Not now, or ever. Or other times, life gets in the way and your planned writing time disappears.

New approach. Write. Write. Write. If it ends in a book (first draft or more), fantastic! If it doesn’t, know you are still working your way to a completed manuscript by working on your craft. It may be the one you started or it may be a completely different one. Either way, you are making progress

2. Find an agent. AKA: sign with an agent. There are hundreds (thousands?) of agents in this business, so it seems likely that at least one will like your writing. But this business is incredibly subjective and that is out of your control. As are slow times in the industry, agents’ vacations, and competition in the slush pile.

New approach. Realize the intricacies of this business and alter your goal a bit. Go hot and heavy on researching agents. Five a day, ten, or twenty. Their likes and dislikes. Enter contests. Sign up for manuscript critiques. And query. A lot. Make your goal to send out 100 queries this year. If you don’t find an agent, know you succeeded in doing all you could.

3. Sell a book. This may be more difficult than finding an agent. Traditional publishing is very difficult, and while there are a lot of publishing houses and a lot of editors, those lists are smaller than the agent list. Which means more competition in addition to individual tastes regarding genres and writing styles.

New approach. If you are in the position to sell a book, consider alternatives. Smaller presses, significant revisions, or self-publishing. You can also look at publishing stories in magazines and anthologies.

Here are a few of the writing goals I have for this year.

  • Play around with short stories
  • Revise my current WIP
  • Research writing in different genres
  • Do 15 minute writing sessions as many days during the week as possible.
  • Read books in different genres

I would love to hear your ideas for 2018 goals and any tips you have to keeping those resolutions!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. Her middle grade science fiction novel is represented by Kathy Green of Kathryn Green Literary Agency. You can find Halli on Twitter.

 

 

What Did I Do in 2017?

The end of the year is close. When I changed the calendar from October to November, I felt as if I wasted the entire year. Of course I spent too much time on social media, binge-watched several TV shows, and stood for what seemed like hours in front of the coffee machine waiting for the cup to fill, but as far as writing, what exactly did I do this year?

Photo: Estee Janssens

I didn’t want to dwell on my procrastination, but I thought if I took a good look at what I did – or didn’t do – this year, maybe I would learn something about myself as a writer and as a person that could help when making my goals for next year.

I know it’s scary, but play along with me. (Don’t make me do this alone!) Take out a pen and paper and start your list. First, what did you do and second, what did you learn.

Here’s mine:

  1. The first five months of this year I revised my YA contemporary novel. Every time you revise and open yourself up to critiques, you develop your craft. With this particular novel, I learned about dialogue, specifically what’s boring or repetitive, and how to make dialogue fun.
  2. I spent several months this year forcing myself to write a novel that clearly didn’t want to be written. A friend suggested now wasn’t the time to write it, but how could that be? You have an idea, you write. If I’d looked at the novel objectively, as she did, I wouldn’t have spent so much time forcing it.
  3. I wrote three rough synopses and four rough outlines for new books. I don’t just write for The Winged Pen, I read and cherish the writing tips. This year I took those tips and changed the way I start manuscripts. This helped me see the complete idea and the direction it needed to go.
  4. I wrote sixteen posts for The Winged Pen. The key here is writing. Some write for their jobs, some do fifteen minute writing warmups. The fact is, the more we write, the better we get.
  5. I critiqued six manuscripts and short stories (including my first paid editing job!) Critiquing is one of the best ways to grow as a writer. When we read and critique others, we identify mistakes we make in our own writing. And personally, reading good work from others pushes me to become a better writer.
  6. I wrote and revised one short story. Just like reading different genres, experimenting with different writing styles, genres, and lengths can open up new strengths and passions.I had attempted to write several short stories in the past, but finishing one gave me a new level of confidence.
  7. I read novels, short stories, and craft articles. Reading is necessary for all writers because it helps you grow as you learn new tips and develop new ideas. Reading also supports other writers, and for me, it is therapy.

As this year ends and we set goals for 2018, forget the times of procrastination and focus on what you learned this year. The Winged Pen wrote many posts to help and entertain you on your journey. Below are a few of my favorites.

The Winged Pen took writers from the big idea to the final product in the novel writing Master Your Craft series.

Need help finding critique partners? Here are a few tips. Another Magic Formula and How to Give a Good Critique.

The Pennies are big readers. Check out a few of our favorite books. Shannon Hale’s Real Friends and Neal Shusterman’s Scythe.

Have trouble navigating social media? These posts can help. Creating Your Social Media Platform and Twitter 101 For Writers.

The Winged Pen looked at diversity this year. Writing Other with Sensitivity and Writing About Native Americans – A Diversity Conversation.

And don’t forget our monthly Four on 400  contest. Four critiques on your first 400 words.

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. Her middle grade science fiction novel is represented by Kathy Green of Kathryn Green Literary Agency. You can find Halli on Twitter.

 

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The Call with Gita Trelease, Author of Enchantée

Gita Trelease, YA author, EnchanteeWe all love “the call” posts. When revisions needed in our work-in-progress seem endless or a rejected query has us ready to give up, they’re the reminder that the next step will happen. We’ll get an agent and sell a book…eventually!

Today’s post is very close to my heart. Gita Trelease’s Enchantée (Flatiron/Macmillan, 2019) is a gorgeously-written YA historical fantasy set in pre-revolutionary Paris. It’s full of magic and romance, struggles to get by, and the excesses of Versailles. Gita is too modest to tell you this herself, but when she queried Enchantée, she rocked it! She had an 80% request rate, got her first offer after 16 days, received one request from an agent who’d heard about her novel through the rumor mill, and ended up with offers from six agents. Gita’s querying was over in a month. A MONTH! Here’s the scoop.

First of all, how does it feel to be interviewed for The Winged Pen instead of writing a post?

Gita: Exciting! But unfamiliar, like moving from behind the camera to standing in front of it.

Tell us about your experience writing Enchantée.

Gita: It took me about 2 ½ years from inception to querying. At the outset, it seemed like a straight-forward story, but of course it turned into something with multiple threads, what felt at times like hundreds of characters, and tons of research. There were many dark days when I thought I wasn’t smart enough to write this book. My writing friends kept me going through those times with their love and encouragement. I think every writer faces doubts like that, but the important thing is not to let them set up shop in your head and derail you. It’s easier said than done, though. Sometimes you have to give yourself permission to step away, take a break, fill the well. Sometimes you need to find a new way to approach your writing; in my last big revision, Donald Maass’ The Emotional Craft of Fiction helped me do that. And if perfectionism demons (this is an ongoing battle for me) get in the way of your writing, I can recommend Hillary Rettig’s The 7 Secrets of the Prolific.

What kind of agent were you looking for?

Gita: Going into this, I had very high expectations! I hoped for an agent who was editorial, experienced, knew the publishing industry inside and out, had a strong track-record of excellent sales, and whose clients’ books were ones I loved. I hoped for an agent who was smart and well read, a good communicator, someone who truly “got” my book—and me.

Everyone dreams over having agents fight for their manuscript. What was it like to receive offers from several rock-star agents?

Gita: I hadn’t expected that to happen! It was both exhilarating and disorienting, because how do you choose? I loved chatting with the offering agents, hearing each one’s vision for my novel, emailing/talking with their clients (very important)—but after ten days of that, my head was spinning. In the end, I needed to let go of my tendency to overthink things, and trust my gut. I am so happy I did.

You chose to go with Molly Ker Hawn of The Bent Agency. What made Molly the one?

Gita Trelease, YA author, EnchanteeGita: Molly was the first agent to offer and I loved her from the start! She has everything I was looking for in an agent (see above), plus certain qualities I didn’t even know I was looking for: a great sense of humor, curiosity, enthusiasm, and a fierce commitment to her clients. I feel incredibly lucky that she offered to represent me.


You queried in July, had an agent in August, and Molly wanted to take Enchantée to the Frankfort Book Festival in October. What was editing with an agent like?

Gita: Molly had gone through the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb, giving me both line edits and bigger editorial notes. To get it done, I worked ten-hour days over the course of two weeks, but thanks to Molly’s comments, the process was exhilarating. Over and over, she saw how my story could be more nuanced, layered, sharper, bigger—and she pointed to ways I could get there. She also reminded me that all of her comments were suggestions—even if they didn’t sound that way—and encouraged me to argue back in the comments. I didn’t engage in too much back-talk, but knowing I could helped me get in the right frame of mind to do my best work. Two days after I turned it in to Molly, we went on sub!

Any advice for those querying?

Of course! Do your query research (see Alexa Donne’s great Wattpad piece), read a lot of books in your genre, and, on top of all the other advice you’ve already heard, make sure your query highlights what’s fresh about your story.

Congratulations, Gita! Everyone on The Winged Pen is so excited that Enchantée is headed for book store shelves!

Readers can follow Gita on Twitter and Instagram, and find her at www.gitatrelease.com. Enchantée is scheduled for publication in January, 2019. But you can check out some of Gita’s beautiful words sooner, right here on The Winged Pen:

Writing Historical Fiction, or, Notes from a Time Traveler
Creative Cross-Pollination
Master Your Craft: Research – Make Your Story Believable
Master Your Craft: Using Metaphor

GITA TRELEASE writes YA fantasy. In her former life as a college professor, she taught classes on fairy tales, monsters, and Victorian criminals. Her current project takes place during the French Revolution: hot-air balloons and gambling, decadence and dark magic. And wigs. She is represented by Molly Ker Hawn at The Bent Agency and her debut novel, ENCHANTÉE, comes out from Flatiron/Macmillan in January 2019. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is and middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. She reviews young adult books, is a judge for the CYBILS YA Speculative Fiction book award and fangirls all things bookish. Find her on Twitter and Instagram, or on her website, writerebeccawrite.wordpress.com.

Twitter 101 for Writers: Etiquette

Abby Matthews asked: I’d like to see a post on Twitter etiquette for beginners. When is it OK to butt into a conversation with a total stranger and when is it just creepy? Because I feel like 99.95% of the time it’s just creepy. I’ll heart when illustrators post recent works (I LOVE that). But I rarely catch when someone posts something I think I can comment on. So how do you strike up a friendship?? I feel like that awkward middle school kid, holding her lunch tray and staring at the cool kids’ table. If we were in person I would have ZERO problem approaching people and making friends. But I feel so inhibited from behind my computer screen!!

Abby asked me this question a couple months ago when she started on Twitter. Now, with 16 episodes of her Mom Writes podcast out, she’s at the head of the cool kids’ table! But I thought her question was probably something on the minds of other writers.

I’m not an expert on all aspects on Twitter etiquette, but I’ve been on Twitter for a while, both on my own account and tweeting for @WingedPen. Marty Mayberry and Jessica Vitalis were kind enough to chime in with tips gained from their experience at Pitch Wars mentors.

First, as Abby mentions, there’s liking. Also retweeting. I don’t think you can ever go wrong with these. People feel good when they know someone has seen a tweet and feels similarly.

But conversations are trickier, because of course, we all know there are cool kid tables in the Twitter Writing community: agents, editors, published authors. Do they really want to hear from the ranks of the “writing forever and still not rep’d” like me?

Even here, there are some straightforward rules. Don’t @ agents with Twitter pitches, normally or in contests. Look up their submission requirements and send them a professional query. Don’t @ authors with bad reviews of their books. DO @ authors with good reviews! I’ve had authors and their agents retweet book recommendations I’ve written for Winged Pen. They appreciate that I enjoyed their book and am spreading the word, and I appreciate that the post I took time to write gets seen by more people. All good.

There are times when it’s cool to ask agents questions. Some announce #AskAgent times when they’re open for questions on the hashtag. Questions about the category or genre you’re writing in are fair game. Even whether your 150,000 word debut manuscript has any shot at getting representation. Beyond that, it’s fine to comment that their gif or the picture of their cat is awesome. It’s not going to get you a full request on your next query, but there’s no harm. But it’s best not to start up a conversation like you’re pals unless they’ve indicated they’re looking to chat about a topic.

Use the same courtesy with authors. Pitch Wars has #AskAMentor and other contests have times you can ask advice from mentors on the hashtag. But these folks need to get to their own writing/family/lives too. So keep an eye on the hashtag and focus the questions when they’ve said they’re available. Jessica and Marty say, “DO NOT DM your query and first five pages to mentors.” “DO NOT dig up their private email addresses and submit there.” Yes! These things have happened! You want to be noticed for your writing, not for failing to follow guidelines. And remember, the mentors on Twitter writing contests are VOLUNTEERS. They’ve been in the query trenches and are trying to pay it forward. Be nice to them and to other writers. Mentors notice.

DO @ mentors to engage. Mentors don’t want writers to be scared of them. Marty says, “We’re really no different than them, we’re just a little further down that publishing road.”

But those are the easy situations because the rules are pretty clear. What if an author is chatting about something you feel passionately about. Can you tweet back?

If an author is giving writing advice, it’s best not to chime in as if you’re an expert yourself unless you are. If they’re talking wombats, on the other hand, it’s pretty clear this is water-cooler talk. Tweet back if you’re into wombats. If someone tweeted helpful advice or a link to a great blog post, it’s fine to say, “Thanks, I liked that because…” and see if that starts a conversation.

What’s the worst that can happen? They don’t respond to you? Don’t get offended. Consider the fact that they might have gotten a lot of tweets. Or they might have popped onto Twitter for a quick break from work, but need to get back to it. Maybe you’ll have a long, profound conversation and maybe not. Because really, Abby’s right. Twitter is not the same as a “real” conversation. For most of us, it’s easy to pop into Twitter and reach out. But it’s also easier to let a conversation drop. And if it drops, just move on.

Remember, there are places other than Twitter to build relationships with people in the writing community that may be more conducive to starting friendships because they don’t have the awkward limit of 140 characters. Commenting on blog posts, meeting up at a conference, friending on Facebook. As I mentioned in Twitter 101 for Writers part 2: Building Your Community, I keep in touch with a lot of people on Twitter, but I’ve met many of them elsewhere. If you don’t feel comfortable “meeting” people in 140 characters, there’s no need to. Meet them where you’re most comfortable and “touch base” on Twitter to keep up the relationship.

For more on leveraging Twitter as a writer, see my prior posts:
Twitter 101 for Writers: The Basics
Twitter 101 for Writers: Building Your Community

DO YOU HAVE OTHER QUESTIONS OR SUGGESTIONS ON TWITTER ETIQUETTE? OR QUESTIONS ON HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF TWITTER AS A WRITER? If so, leave them in the comments below!

Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is and middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure. She on Twitter at @RebeccaJ_Allen and her website is writerebeccawrite.wordpress.com.

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