October changes

I thrive on trying new things. (In my writing life, obviously–don’t go trying to get me to use a different brand of toothpaste.) The past few weeks, in an effort to cut back on headaches, I’ve been spending as little time as possible in front of my computer screen. And let me tell you, it has been a refreshing change. Aside from completing a hard-copy edit of the sequel to Demon’s Heart, I also pulled out this fabulous little notebook:

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…and starting writing by hand for the first time in years. And it’s AMAZING! I love it! There’s something about adding in the uniqueness of your own handwriting to the story that makes it feel even more like your own masterpiece.

I also tried this for the first time ever yesterday:

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Note cards, colorful pens, and M&Ms. Again, it was fabulous. Using note cards added a great dimension of flexibility to my planning that just isn’t there in a Word doc. And, you know, a little chocolate never hurt the writing process.

So here I am, congratulating myself on trying so many new things. And then I realize: it’s October. And you know what that means, right? It means writers everywhere are ramping up for that grueling marathon of words so innocuously called NaNoWriMo.

Never in my life have I participated in NaNo. 50K words in a month? Are you nuts?! That’s, like, death by keyboard!

But I’m teetering here, friends. I’m tempted to jump on board. I have two different projects that I could do, and there’s this crazy little voice inside my head that’s screaming for me to go for it.

So should I jump on the NaNo wagon?

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The Power of the New

I’ve been writing stories since I was ten years old. Earlier, if you count the ridiculously detailed games of make-believe I used to press on my friends. And yet my method is always changing, morphing, expanding. In the past two months, I’ve done a whole lot of things that I’ve never done before, and it’s improving my writing in a way I never could have done while staying in my comfortable habit zone. Here’s what’s new in my writing world:

  • Outlined an entire series before starting on the first book. It’s ridiculously a lot easier to change an outline than to change a draft. You’d think I’d have figured this one out a long time ago.
  • Wrote a draft in six weeks. Never have I ever done NaNoWriMo. The very thought of it stresses me out. But with my handy-dandy detailed outline in hand, I punched out the fastest (and best) first draft I’ve ever accomplished.
  • Got feedback from a new reader. Two new readers, actually. And getting that fresh perspective on my writing has given me new eyes to see where I can improve.
  • Edited on a hard copy. Every time I opened my draft on the computer, I would stare at it blankly for ten minutes and close it again. So I printed it out, and yesterday I got a third of it edited and an important scene rewritten. Longhand. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve written fiction longhand?
  • Begun organizing some multi-author events. Super excited about this one. Author events are okay on your own, but when you get to hang out with other super cool authors at the event, it gets ten times awesomer.

In the book Lighten Up!, Chieko Okazaki says, “I want us to make up our own minds, experiment with one form and abandon it without feeling guilty if we find it doesn’t work, listen to what works for other people, find something else, seek the Father’s will, find still something else, move into a different season of our lives, and find still something else” (17-18).

I’m a firm believer that trying something new is how we progress in all areas of our lives, and writing is no exception. So tell me—have you tried something new lately? If not, then what are you going to do about it? What’s the next new thing that’s going to give you a new spin on the world?

Give me your three words!

I went to the dentist today.

And then I took Scout to the doctor for her shots.

I’m tired.

So today’s writing challenge is a simple one, and I’d love to see some of your responses in the comments section:

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In three words, express a prominent theme in your novel.

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See? So simple that I can even manage it in my current state of mind.

For my current project: potentially moral lies.

For Demon’s Heart: internalizing external perceptions.

What are your three words?


PS Be excited for Wednesday’s post—there’s a super awesome guest author coming to visit BumblesBooks!

The Decision

About the time I finished Demon’s Heart, I began working on another, unrelated novel. I had been researching agents and publishers and query letters and all those wonderful mysteries of the publishing world, and I wasn’t at all confident that anyone would pick my work up to be published. I also really didn’t want to field all those rejection letters that inevitably come raining down on the aspiring author. At the same time, I wasn’t convinced that self-publishing was the way to go for me for a host of reasons that I will cover in another post.

So I made myself a deal. I would put myself out there, query some agents and publishing companies, and see if I could sell Demon’s Heart. If I had not been successful by the time I had finished up my other novel, I would self-publish my second novel and see if I had any success with it. Either way, I would be published, and I could those terrible rejection letters with the firm knowledge that they would not forever close off the possibility of getting published.

Long story short, I sold my book to the fabulous Cedar Fort Publishing, and here we are. It’s been interesting to see the mix of self-published and traditionally published authors in the blogosphere. How did you decide which route to take?

Popcorn Popping

I have a folder on my computer stuffed with completely random scenes, unconnected to any of the novels I’m working on. They’re just bits that come to me when I pass an interesting gate or watch people on the train or walk by ducks on the river, and I shove them into that folder to molder.

The other day, one of those scenes came poking out of the back of my mind and, without warning, exploded into an entire story. It was an entirely different direction than I had considered taking with that scene, but it was all there. I spent most of the day keeping baby entertained with one hand and scribbling madly in my notebook with the other. (All my actual writing is done on the computer, but colorful pens and grid paper are my preferred method of plotting.)

Most of my novels have started that way—a little kernel that pops into a big story, not perfectly smooth, but fairly substantial and wanting only some filling out.

How does your story come together? Do you start with character, events, places, or something else completely?

Pitching a Perfect Strike

The first time I pitched my manuscript to an editor was one of those fall-flat-on-your-face, hide-in-your-closet-for-a-week, utterly mortifying disasters.

I was taking a class on children’s publishing from the esteemed Rick Walton, and an editor from a local publishing company was coming to guest lecture. We had been forewarned that this particular editor had in past classes asked students to pitch their manuscripts to him at the end of the class, so, of course, I had been spending my nights carefully crafting, crossing out, and rewriting the perfect pitch. This obsessive writing, on top of my two internships, homework, and capstone madness, meant that I didn’t exactly sleep for a couple of nights.

But the day came, I had worked out a beautiful hook, and I was going to blow them all away with my brilliance. Granted, lack of sleep had brought on a decent headache and exhaustion, but I could sleep after my novel had been accepted for publication on the spot.

As the day wore on, the headache turned into a low fever, the exhaustion turned into chills, and by the time the class rolled around at 5:30, it was pretty obvious that I was coming down with the flu. But there was no time to be sick! An editor was coming! A living, breathing editor! I could make it a couple more hours, right?

I didn’t hear most of the lecture. What little brainpower was left over from being wretchedly tired and ill was too busy stressing out about the pitch. And so, when the editor finished his spiel and opened up for pitches, I raised a trembling hand, desperate to just get it over with.

And realized I couldn’t remember a lick of my carefully-planned pitch.

And so, with the few remaining sparks left in my brain, I stumbled through a truly lame outline of my plot, petering out about halfway through because I had no energy left to dig myself in any deeper. This poor editor stared at me for about thirty seconds, no doubt trying to figure out how to be somewhat polite in his response. Finally, he said simply, “That sounds like every other fantasy novel I’ve ever read,” and called on somebody else.

Lessons learned:

1. Don’t try to impress an editor when you have the flu. It just won’t happen.

2. Practice. I had written and rewritten, but never once did I practice actually saying my pitch. And so, when the time came, it escaped me completely. I’ve learned since then to say it over and over so that when the time comes, giving your pitch is as much muscle memory as anything else.

3. Learn from rejection. I realized while walking home that night that there really was absolutely nothing unique about my novel. It was really depressing, but I went back to the drawing board and changed, added, twisted, and reorganized until my story was something new and exciting. Trying to pitch my book really opened my eyes to its biggest weaknesses. It was terribly tempting to just throw it away at that point; but instead, I cut it down to the roots and made it grow into something worth reading. (At least, I think it’s worth reading.)

Anybody else have wonderfully embarrassing pitch stories or advice on how to not have a wonderfully embarrassing pitch story?